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22 April 2021

In the headlines

At least 1,770 supporters of hunger-striking Alexei Navalny were arrested at protests across Russia yesterday. Kira Yarmysh, the spokesperson who warned Navalny will die “in days”, was among those detained. No 10 has denied a senior civil servant suggested Boris Johnson change his oft-circulated phone number to deter lobbyists. A “Marmite shortage” is set to hit the UK. Lockdown pub closures have triggered a brewer’s yeast shortage. “Half of Britain celebrated …” says The Daily Star. “Half of Britain despaired.”

Comment of the day

Navalny

Human rights heroes are getting a bad rap

The free world keeps finding reasons to turn on its heroes, says Sylvie Kauffmann in Le Monde. Alexei Navalny lost his “prisoner of conscience” status after the charity Amnesty International became concerned he’d used xenophobic rhetoric in the past. Aung San Suu Kyi, the “iconic” Burmese leader now behind bars again, has faced calls to be stripped of her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize because she shared power with a Burmese military who slaughtered Rohingya Muslims.

 

Property

Justin Bieber’s tour bus is not your average mobile home. In a video with GQ the singer reveals the inside of his penthouse on wheels – which has an enormous double bedroom, fake fireplace, office area, LED lighting, some of his favourite art on the walls and an infrared sauna. He’s expected to be back on the road for the start of his North American tour on June 2.

Inside politics

Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey is considering running for Texas governor. A poll carried out in the state puts his potential support at 45%, compared to 33% for the Republican incumbent. McConaughey’s politics are “a blank canvas as wide as a Texas prairie sunset”, says Jack Shafer in Politico: it’s unclear what party he would run for. But maybe every big election should include a celebrity on the ballot – it would give voters “periodic relief” from professional politicians. “May the best-known candidate win!”

Noted

Even though President Biden has committed to withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the Taliban is keeping up the pressure. The ultraconservative insurgents have been recording every perceived violation of the 2020 withdrawal agreement on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which they update and deliver weekly to US diplomats in Qatar. These records outline more than 1,000 alleged infractions and counting, says The New York Times.

On the way out

After more than 10 years, it looks like the skinny jeans trend is finally dead, says The New York Times. Sales of high-waisted, loose-fitting jeans boomed during the pandemic. Gen Z and young millennials in particular like pairing tight tops with loose “mom jeans”. We may well be entering a “new denim cycle”, says Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi’s.

Quoted

“It is fatal to be appreciated in one’s own time.”

Osbert Sitwell

Snapshot answer

It’s MI5’s grand entrance hall at its Thames House HQ. The famously furtive spooks have joined Instagram in a bid to increase transparency and bust “martini-drinking stereotypes”, director general Ken McCallum has said – and this is their first post. Boris Johnson has joined the account’s 38,000 new followers this morning (Priti Patel has even left a comment thanking the agency for “keeping our country safe”). The caption reads: “The secret to successful spying? Consider all angles. It’ll give you a better view”. Behind the pods – which work like airport scanners – lie “some of the UK’s best kept secrets”.

21 April

In the headlines

All six English clubs in the European Super League have withdrawn, leaving the project in tatters. Liverpool’s American owner, John W Henry, made what the Daily Star calls a “groveling apology”. Police officer Derek Chauvin is facing up to 40 years in jail after being convicted of the murder of George Floyd. America is still “far from the sea change” its policing needs, says the Chicago Sun-Times. Boris Johnson personally promised to “fix” a tax issue for the businessman James Dyson, says the BBC. The pledge was reportedly made last March as Dyson’s firm answered a government call for ventilators.

Comment of the day

 

Tomorrow’s world

The Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world. The lake had a surface area of 26,000 square miles – nearly the size of Ireland. But in the 1960s Soviet engineers built an irrigation network with 20,000 miles of canals, 45 dams and more than 80 reservoirs. The leaky and inefficient system exhausted the lake so much it dried up almost entirely. Now new Google Earth imagery shows the extent of the damage.

Zeitgeist

The best picture nominations at this Sunday’s Oscars read “like a social justice warriors’ handbook”, says Melanie Phillips in The Times. Mank boils down to “bleeding-heart liberal Hollywood writer revolts against movie moguls”, while Promising Young Woman is yet another hyper-feminist drama about taking revenge on violent men. The industry will applaud the acting and clever scripts — but what is there in this list to make the audience’s spirit soar? Oscar nominations used to say, “What great movies we make.” Now they say, “Look what good people we are.”

Moneymaker

The pandemic has brought eminent statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter an unexpected windfall. Despite his ubiquity, the 67-year-old is in fact retired, and his role as chairman of Cambridge University’s Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication is unpaid. Luckily for Spiegelhalter, his book The Art of Statistics came out in paperback in February 2020. “I’m earning slightly embarrassing amounts of money from it,” he tells the Financial Times.

Noted

More than a fifth of all British adults – 21% – have visited a hairdresser or barber in the past week, according to YouGov. Marginally more – 22% – have been to an outdoor pub, café or restaurant.

Quoted

Quoted 21-04

“It is no wonder that people are so horrible when they start their life as children.”

Kingsley Amis

Snapshot answer

It’s Kamala Harris. The vice president is selling her flat in Washington DC for nearly $2 million. The two-bedroom apartment is part of a swanky, 10-storey building, pictured above, that comes with a shared gym, rooftop pool and dog-washing station. It sounds hard to beat, but Harris is continuing up the property ladder. Last week she moved into her official residence, which has 33 rooms, a pool, a large garden, a sunroom and a beehive that Mike Pence added during his time there. Harris said she will “absolutely” keep the bees.

21 April

In the headlines

The government is considering changing the law to stop the creation of the proposed football Super League. “I’m going to do everything I can to give this ludicrous plan a straight red,” writes Boris Johnson in The Sun. The jury hearing the case of Derek Chauvin, the police officer alleged to have killed George Floyd, has retired to consider its verdict. India has been added to Britain’s travel “red list” over fears of a new Covid variant. At the moment, about 900 people are arriving from India each day. The addition takes effect on Friday. The UK will commit to cutting its carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990’s levels – a target not matched by any other major economy.

Comment of the day

Gone viral

A row has erupted over the Australian Navy’s decision to hire a female dance troupe, 101 Doll Squadron, to mark the unveiling of a new A$2bn ship. Critics thought the twerking performance deeply inappropriate and “too woke”, while others welcomed the display of artistic expression.

On the money

Robert De Niro has taken on some “fully depressing” films over the past two decades, says Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph. Now the “stain” of recent “lowbrow yucks” such as Dirty Grandpa and The War with Grandpa is being pinned on his ex-wife’s penchant for designer clothes. Divorce proceedings were started with Grace Hightower, his wife of 21 years, in 2018, but she has recently been arguing in court that he needs to maintain monthly alimony of £271,000. “When does he get the opportunity to not take every opportunity that comes along,” asked De Niro’s lawyer, if he has to “keep pace with Ms Hightower’s thirst for Stella McCartney?”

On the way out

The Old English sheepdog, known as the Dulux dog after years of starring in the paint company’s adverts, is at risk of disappearing. Only 227 puppies were registered in 2020, and the breed has been classed as “vulnerable” by the Kennel Club. Weighing up to 45kg when they reach adulthood, the shaggy dogs require three to four hours grooming a week and lots of exercise – which may explain their dwindling popularity.

Tomorrow’s world

Rishi Sunak has told the Bank of England to make the case for a new digital currency to rival bitcoin – “Britcoin” – says Reuters. It would speed up payments and diminish the risk of financial instability. China is a “front-runner” to launch a digital version of its currency, but rival European ambitions are “years away” and zippy Britain wants to nip in first.

Quoted

Quoted 20-04

“The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing – and then marry him.”

Cher

Snapshot answer

It’s Corfe Castle, on the Isle of Purbeck peninsula in Dorset. In daylight, the 11th-century site is a crumbling ruin, but last night, misty conditions made it look like a ship at sea. The castle was built by William the Conqueror and was one of the first in England to be made partly using stone rather than just earth and timber.

19 April

In the headlines

Six leading English football clubs could join a European “super league”. The 15 founding members will receive €215m each, plus a starting bonus of €100m – “Most of all, of course, it’s about money,” says Christian Spiller in Die Zeit. Nasa has flown a small helicopter on Mars. The drone was airborne for less than a minute, but it is the first successful controlled flight on another planet. Up to 50,000 people have been evacuated from Table Mountain in Cape Town, as wildfire sweeps the area. The blaze began on Sunday morning and spread to the University of Cape Town’s campus, where it destroyed its historic library.

Comment of the day

 

Life

“I’ve never known anyone so consciously spread happiness,” says Damian Lewis of his wife, the actress Helen McCrory, who died last week from cancer aged 52. And throughout the illness, said Lewis in The Sunday Times, her desire for happiness never dwindled. “One nurse at the Royal Marsden told me once they actually looked forward to Helen coming in because she made their day better.”

She was funny, too. In 2003, McCrory starred as Yelena in a New York staging of Uncle Vanya, alongside Emily Watson as Sonya. After one performance, Lauren Bacall appeared in her dressing room. “I just came to tell you you were magnificent,” said Bacall. “Your Sonya moved me to tears.” McCrory paused, then told Bacall it was actually Watson who played Sonya. Bacall was mortified and apologised profusely, says Lewis. “Helen riposted, ‘That’s alright Ms Hepburn, I’m glad you enjoyed the show.’ Lauren Bacall threw her head back and laughed and bellowed, ‘You’re my kind of dame, let’s go out.’ And off they went into the night.”

Noted

The container ship that blocked the Suez Canal has caused a garden-gnome shortage across the UK. Several boats trapped in the week-long traffic jam were carrying garden ornaments and “unfortunately gnomes are a victim”, garden centre assistant manger Ian Byrne told the BBC.

Zeitgeist

We must simplify our spelling, says the English Spelling Society. The English language has been “chopped and changed” over the centuries, the group argues, and as a result, our current spelling system is nonsensical and tricky to learn. Instead, it is advocating for a phonetic approach – so wash becomes wosh, love becomes luv and educate becomes edducate. It’s patronising, says former headmaster Chris McGovern in The Times. Yes, English spelling is challenging, “but that is the richness of the language. You can have a cartoon or you can have a Raphael.”

Snapshot answer

It’s Prince Philip. Alongside his royal duties, the Duke of Edinburgh was a keen oil painter, especially of landscapes and portraits, but not many people knew that. It was a “private pursuit”, said Jennifer Scott, the former curator of paintings at the Royal Collection, when the painting – a 1965 study of the Queen eating breakfast at Windsor Castle – first came to public attention in 2010. “I think it’s a really good painting,” said Scott, “it seems such a private moment.”

Quoted

Quoted 19-04

“The heart, like the stomach, wants a varied diet.”

Gustave Flaubert