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16 September 2021

In the headlines

Yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle was the most brutal since Margaret Thatcher’s 1981 “purge of the wets”, reports Jessica Elgot in The Guardian. Anyone who thinks Boris is a people-pleaser should think again. Education secretary Gavin Williamson is gone, as is justice secretary Robert Buckland, party co-chairman Amanda Milling, and the housing secretary – and only millennial cabinet minister – Robert Jenrick. “People won’t mess around now,” said one unnamed Tory. “Anyone can get chopped.” The UK, US and Australia have formed a security pact to counter China. AUKUS, as it’s called, got off to a slightly rocky start – Biden appeared to forget the Aussie PM’s name, referring to Scott Morrison as “that fellow down under”.

Comment of the day

AUKUS

The right way to deal with China

The new military agreement between the US, UK and Australia puts paid to the “worrying spectre” of declining American power, says Adam Creighton in The Australian. Washington’s top mandarins are wise to see the “necessity” of the world’s top English-speaking countries sticking together to counter “growing Chinese belligerence”. Canada has fallen behind in the international defence pecking order, and the less said about New Zealand “kowtowing to Chinese interests” the better.

Met Gala

No defence for this Versailles-like behaviour

At Monday’s Met Gala, we saw America’s glitziest stars prancing around maskless in the middle of a pandemic, “while those paid hourly wages to serve them were required to keep their faces covered”, says Glenn Greenwald in his Substack. It was a depressing parade of a “maskless elite attended to by a permanently faceless servant class”. The so-called liberals are the worst hypocrites – progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posed on the gala’s red carpet without a mask in her “Tax the Rich” dress, turning her appearance into “a celebrity-building branding opportunity”. Other Democrat bigwigs such as Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom have also been caught ignoring Covid guidelines at parties.

Great escape

Last night, Elon Musk’s rocket firm SpaceX launched the world’s first crew of four “amateur astronauts” into space, to circle the Earth for three days. The mission is being paid for by crew leader and minor tech billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, who made his fortune with a payment-processing firm he founded as a teen. He is bringing along a 29-year-old cancer survivor and two sweepstakes winners. They will orbit at an altitude of 357 miles above Earth’s surface, a full 100 miles higher than the International Space Station, before splashing down off the Florida coast at the weekend.

Gone viral

Time magazine has honoured the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with a glossy photoshoot and glowing write-up, hailing them for giving a “voice to the voiceless”. Twitter users were less sure. One viral post, liked more than 70,000 times, read: “This looks like Harry is her hairdresser and he’s looking into the mirror explaining what he did to her layers.”

Love etc

One in ten gym-goers have had an orgasm while exercising, says a new study. Sit-ups, followed by lifting weights and climbing poles or ropes, were the exercises most likely to induce a “coregasm” in men. Women also found abdominal workouts the biggest turn-on, followed by cycling and running. One man among the 2,000 people interviewed by Indiana University said he orgasmed “while loading an 18-wheeler [lorry] with 55-gallon steel drums”.

Tomorrow’s world

A German tech start-up, Vay, has been secretly testing a new remote-driving car-rental business in Berlin, reports Handelsblatt. A customer orders a car via an app that a remote operator guides to the journey start point using cameras on the car. The customer then takes the wheel before hopping out at the journey’s end and handing it back to the operator. Vay plans to launch next year and thinks its service will be up to 60% cheaper than taking an Uber.

Noted

The family of the late Stuart Mitchell, 30, a dance music fan, asked that his ashes be scattered at the music festival Creamfields, “so that he truly went there one last time”. Organisers went one better, says the Liverpool Echo. During Dutch DJ Tiesto’s closing set, Mitchell’s remains were blasted out of a confetti cannon as “up to 70,000 ravers danced away in the fields of Daresbury”.

Snapshot answer

It’s a camouflaged boat named L’invisible, created by French artist Julien Berthier. He covered an old boat he found with carved epoxy resin, polystyrene and a splash of paint. There’s a hatch on top for getting in and out and navigating.

Quoted

quoted 16.9

“I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information.”

Christopher Hitchens


15 September

In the headlines

Inflation has soared to 3.2%, its highest level in nearly a decade. “It’s a serious squeeze on living standards” and leaves egg on the Bank of England’s face, says the Financial Times. The biggest leaps are in food, furniture and restaurant prices. Shamima Begum, the British schoolgirl who ran away to join Islamic State, has begged for forgiveness and to be allowed to come home from Syria. “I regret every, every decision I’ve made since I stepped into Syria and I will live with it for the rest of my life,” she told ITV this morning. The Queen’s 32 horse-race winners have earned her more than £460,000 in her best racing season. “Long to rein over us,” says The Sun.

Comment of the day

Met Gala

How clever of AOC to weaponise her wardrobe

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knows exactly what she’s doing, says Molly Roberts in The Washington Post. On Monday, New York’s socialist congresswoman attended the glitzy Met Gala in a white dress with “TAX THE RICH” emblazoned on the back. Tickets for the event cost upwards of $35,000. For some, AOC was an “anti-capitalist queen, infiltrating the ranks of the despised elite to thrust her message where they can’t ignore it”. For others, she was a filthy hypocrite, “playing a game whose rules she purports to disdain”. None of that really matters. The result of AOC’s dress is this: “People who usually wouldn’t talk about the Met Gala are talking about the Met Gala.” And the people who would usually talk about the Met Gala, are talking about AOC.

US politics

Give Biden a break: he’s trying to heal America

Europeans can’t figure Joe Biden out, says Luc de Barochez in Le Point. Afghanistan was an avoidable disaster. He isn’t the heir to Obama we were expecting. Far from being the “anti-Trump”, he refuses to open the borders, cosy up with China or talk up free trade. On the other hand, Biden is doing many things right. To prevent Donald Trump – or another like-minded populist – from being elected in 2024, he must bring America together. This is why he thinks it’s more urgent “to vaccinate Americans and rebuild bridges in Pennsylvania” than to defend women’s rights in Kabul. It’s America, not the Middle East, where he “must first make democracy work”.

Inside politics

America’s most senior military commander was so worried about Donald Trump’s “serious mental decline” after the 2020 election he took action to limit the president’s ability to order a military strike. General Mark Milley told Pentagon officials not to carry out a nuclear launch without him being part of the “procedure”, according to a new book, Peril, by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. He acted after Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House, rang him, saying: “If they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?” Milley allegedly replied: “Madam Speaker, I agree with you.”

On the way out

Cookery programmes. All the best chefs post on YouTube now, Jamie Oliver tells the Radio Times. So does he – the most popular video on his own YouTube channel, a spaghetti carbonara tutorial featuring Antonio Carluccio, has 18 million views. Just don’t tell the producers of Oliver’s new Channel 4 series Together, which started this week.

Gone viral

China reduced 15 skyscrapers to dust in a matter of seconds last week, after they sat empty for eight years because nobody wanted to live in them. Construction on the buildings in Liyang, eastern China, worth one billion Chinese yuan (£110m), started in 2011 but was halted several times after multiple building firms either gave up or ran out of cash. According to China’s state-run Xinhua News, 4.6 tons of explosives were placed at 85,000 points in the buildings, creating a blast area of 500,000 square metres, China’s biggest demolition.

Noted

Birds migrating south for the winter soar as high as 26,000ft, says scientist Sissel Sjöberg in The Conversation. She discovered the great reed warbler and great snipe regularly fly between 16,000ft and 20,000ft on their journey from Sweden to sub-Saharan Africa, much higher than the 6,000ft previously thought. Constant flapping and warmth from the sun apparently raise their body temperatures so much they are forced to fly to colder, higher altitudes.

Snapshot answer

It’s Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who died on Monday aged 79. The artist often painted her four children; this work is entitled Johnson Children with Daisies. Of the four, one, Rachel, is a journalist, another, Leo, works for PwC, the accounting firm. The other two – Boris and Jo, a former minister – are stalwarts of the Tory party, though Charlotte once admitted that she had “never voted Tory in my life”.

Quoted

quoted 15.9

“People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Bill Watterson, author of Calvin and Hobbes


14 September

In the headlines

Anti-vax groups are targeting schools with leafleting and letter-writing campaigns, says Nick Duffy in the I newspaper, in anticipation of Covid jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds beginning next week. Former union boss Len McCluskey has accused Keir Starmer of breaking a private promise to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party. Starmer can’t be trusted and is leading Labour to electoral ruin, McCluskey says in The Guardian. Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl has died age 79. When she was heavily pregnant with Johnson, a Russian called Boris Litwin bought her a plane ticket from Mexico to New York, where the family lived at the time, so she wouldn’t have to take the bus – hence the PM’s distinctive name.

Comment of the day

The glass ceiling

Helping women? No you’re not Alice

Terribly sorry, says Claire Foges in The Times, but I’m not going to write much today. I have to knock off early – “the baby needs her tea at four and my son’s got his first dentist appointment at five”. Is that reasonable? Of course not. And nor was the award of £185,000 by an employment tribunal to former estate agent Alice Thompson, who wanted to permanently cut short her working hours so she could collect her daughter from nursery. Now employers know they must grant flexible working hours, said Thompson, “because the penalties are harsh” if they don’t. Rules, penalties, threats … it’s enough to make you never want to hire a woman again!

Economics

Capitalism is booming in eastern Europe

Once feted as the “cradle of new democracies” after the fall of the Soviet Union, eastern Europe is now widely panned as an “incubator of reactionary populism”, says Ruchir Sharma in the Financial Times. But the political backsliding makes its economic progress all the more intriguing. Of the last 10 countries to be classed as “advanced” economies, six are ex-communist countries in the Eastern Bloc, including the Czech Republic and Lithuania. Poland, Hungary and Romania are likely next in line.

Books

When Salman Rushdie moved to New York, he got off to a rocky start. “I was walking down a street in Midtown Manhattan when another Indian gentleman, very well dressed in an expensive camel coat and a brown fedora, stopped me on the sidewalk and asked me if I was me,” he says in his weekly newsletter Salman’s Sea of Stories. Rushdie confirmed he was and the man looked pleased. “‘Very good,’ he replied, in a soft, courteous voice. ‘I just want to tell you that V.S. Naipaul is a ten times better writer than you.’” Then he raised his hat and walked away.

Noted

French winemakers will produce almost a third less wine than usual this year, after vineyards were struck by frosts, poor weather and disease during the spring and summer. Wine output in the country is predicted to tumble by 29% this year compared with 2020, the lowest level in decades, while champagne production is expected to plummet by 36%. The Burgundy-Beaujolais region, hit by frost, hail and disease, will produce only half the amount of wine it made last year.

Gone viral

Tennis sensation Emma Raducanu scored a last-minute invitation to New York’s coveted Met Gala, which saw guests “torn between baring all and going incognito”, says Vogue. Kendall Jenner wore a see-through Givenchy gown, while Kim Kardashian’s black Balenciaga bodysuit hid her entire face. “Have to say that’s the first thing Kim Kardashian has ever worn that I think would suit me”, says Suzanne Moore on Twitter. Meanwhile, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (above) teased her fellow guests at the $35,000-a-ticket event in a white wedding dress graffitied with the slogan “tax the rich”.

Snapshot answer

It’s a close-up photo of an oak leaf, magnified 60 times. The photograph, which shows two white trichomes and purple stomata on the leaf of a southern live oak, was the winning image in the 2021 Nikon Small World photomicrography competition.

Quoted

quoted 14.9

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Aristotle


13 September

In the headlines

Boris Johnson will shortly unveil his winter plan to avoid a Christmas lockdown, says The Sun. Booster jabs for the over-50s are on the agenda and vaccine passports are not. Good, tweeted the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, Mark Harper. Vaccine passports are “pointless, damaging and discriminatory”. What’s more, children aged 12 to 15 could start getting their Covid jabs as early as next week, says Ben Riley-Smith in the Telegraph, and may only need a single dose for protection. Thriller writer Lee Child has no regrets about twice turning down the chance to write a James Bond novel. Bond was a creation of the 1950s, he says. “It is effectively a period piece.” Perhaps he was right and Bond is past his sell-by date, says the Daily Star. “We should all live and let die.”

Comment of the day

Lithium

Why China is courting the Taliban

It might be unglamorous but the rising price of lithium matters “quite possibly more than the debacle in Kabul”, says Jeremy Cliffe in The New Statesman. The batteries needed to store and transport sustainable energy are made from the metal, which will be “as fundamental to 21st-century industrial economies as oil was in the 20th century”. China is leading this new resource race: the country developed too late to influence the geopolitics of oil, so at the turn of the millennium it identified electric cars and their components as a future area of influence. Now China has a 42% market share for electric vehicles, while the US has just 11%, and Chinese firms are the world’s biggest lithium producers.

Priti Patel

The media is poisoning politics

We always see the worst in our politicians, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. “Tony Blair? The butcher who took us into Iraq. Gordon Brown? The sucker who sold gold on the cheap. George W Bush? The president with the IQ of a chimp.” What about the flip side? Bush saved millions of lives through his malaria initiative in Africa. Blair saw through the Northern Ireland peace process. Brown’s handling of the credit crunch had a great and lasting effect. And Theresa May – “the clown who messed up Brexit” – introduced laws to stamp out modern slavery.

Moneymakers

A running joke among Emma Raducanu’s US Open team was that she hoped to earn enough money to replace the Apple AirPods she lost at the beginning of the tournament, which cost about £109. With her £1.8m champion’s cheque, she could buy more than 16,500 pairs.

Inside politics

A letter sent from parliament to an inmate at HMP Coldingley, Surrey, has been found to contain a “significant” amount of ecstasy, reports The Sun. Written on House of Commons headed notepaper, the reply to a request for information fell foul of the prison’s scanning equipment when it arrived. A formal investigation has now been launched to find the partying parliamentary staffer.

TV

The 40th MTV Video Music Awards gave viewers the complete TV package last night, says The Cut. Everybody’s favourite “dad band” Foo Fighters was upstaged by Gen Z heroes Olivia Rodrigo, 18, Justin Bieber, 27, and Lil Nas X, 22, who was in “full marching-band regalia”. He then “immediately stripped down, just as the MTV gods intended”. After months of “trying-their-best, socially distanced” awards shows, it was a nice, “thrillingly horny” change.

Noted

“Just saying the words ‘Emma Raducanu’ causes people to light up and become lyrical about her incredible trajectory, her fluid, almost balletic playing style, or the fact that she is so charming in interviews, with her giant smile and her teenager’s lack of guile. She seems to possess everything that is good about being young: energy, fearlessness, focus and drive. She is wonderful to look at, in repose and in motion … Then there is her wholesomeness, the sort of glowing, clean-limbed athleticism that so transported John Betjeman [see below].”

India Knight, The Sunday Times

Snapshot answer

It’s Winston Churchill. The wartime PM’s artwork is selling better than ever, says art critic Waldemar Januszczak in The Sunday Times, not that I can understand why. “His work would not even have made it past the first round at the Royal Academy Summer Show.” Still, earlier this year a Churchill owned by Angelina Jolie went for £8.3m, and one given to the Onassis family went for £1.3m, and this “paint by numbers” scene above is expected to fetch up to £2.5m. Adolf Hitler, also a keen artist, was definitely more talented. “But his auction record is a measly £100,000. So that’s another war Churchill is winning.”

Quoted

“Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.”

From A Subaltern’s Love Song by John Betjeman