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27 July 2021

In the headlines

The government has launched an “anti-crime push” that proposes putting GPS tags on burglars released from prison, says BBC News. Labour, reversing Tony Blair’s old slogan, says the Tories are “soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime”. The telephone hotline between North and South Korea has been restored today, in a sign of improving relations between the two nations. Last June the North stopped picking up the phone after activists from the South dropped propaganda pamphlets by hot-air balloon. British swimmers Tom Dean and Duncan Scott took gold and silver in the men’s 200 metres freestyle in Tokyo this morning. Covid cases in England have fallen for the sixth day in a row, although hospital admissions are on the rise. 

Comment of the day

Politics

Our extradition laws are a disgrace 

It’s outrageous that Britons can be seized from their homes and imprisoned in a foreign country at the whim of that country’s lawyers, says David Davis in The Mail on Sunday. But that’s what’s happening. The UK is more prepared than almost any other nation to “surrender” its citizens to overseas courts. It doesn’t even insist on reciprocity: in recent years, 10 times as many Britons have been extradited to the US as Americans to Britain.

 

Inside politics

What’s Angela Merkel going to do when she retires this year, wonders Katja Hoyer in The Spectator. Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor, spent his post-1963 retirement building an “immaculate rose garden” that’s still in bloom today. Otto von Bismarck, who unified Germany in the 19th century, spent his twilight years “writing furious commentary” on the politics he no longer masterminded. Merkel has only suggested reading and napping as future hobbies. After 16 years in the top job, she might find it hard to stop worrying about Germany’s in-tray. But as she told American reporters recently: “I will remember very quickly that things get done by others now. I think I will like that.”

Noted

JK Rowling was once visiting a department store with her son when she found herself in the Harry Potter section, which was rammed with young fans. As the author attempted a quiet exit, she told poet Simon Armitage on Radio 4, her son tugged her arm and said: “How much will you pay me to stop me shouting, ‘She’s here! JK Rowling’s here’?”

Sport

Japanese skateboarder Momiji Nishiya has become the second youngest gold medallist in Olympic history. The 13-year-old won yesterday’s street skateboarding competition. Judging by the podium, the sport is for sprogs. In second place was Brazilian Rayssa Leal, who’s 13 and has braces, while the bronze went to 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl Funa Nakayama. That’s the youngest podium the event has ever seen.

Quoted

Quoted 27-07

“People change and forget to tell each other.” 

Playwright Lillian Hellman

Snapshot answer

It’s a violin-shaped boat that plays Vivaldi while it sails. The motorised vessel is 40ft long and was designed by Italian sculptor Livio De Marchi, who plans to sail it around Venice. It’s a symbol of art surviving the pandemic, he told Italy24News. “As Noah put the animals on board the Ark to save them, we will spread the art through music on this violin.” 


26 July

In the headlines

Britain’s Covid cases are finally falling. Yesterday there were 29,173 recorded positive cases – the first time the number has dropped below 30,000 in a fortnight. Among possible explanations are the end of the Euros, which means fewer people are meeting up in pubs and at home, the hot weather, and children being at home for the school holidays. Severe thunderstorms in London have flooded roads, Tube stations and hospitals. And Britain won three Olympic golds this morning. Swimmer Adam Peaty, divers Tom Daley and Matty Lee, and mountain biker Tom Pidcock took the medals in the space of five hours. 

Comment of the day

 

Noted

This summer it’s all about WFV, says Duncan Craig in The Sunday Times. That’s “working from villa”. Swarms of Brits are renting foreign villas for weeks at a time so they can work abroad. Villa rental service The Thinking Traveller has seen a 20% increase in holiday lengths since 2019, and the Italian rental company Bellini Travel says a string of its UK clients have booked villas for all of August. Given the complicated Covid restrictions, it makes sense, says Bellini’s founder, Emily FitzRoy. “Once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting to Italy or wherever, you might as well stay put.” 

Inside politics

When I turned six I wanted a princess party, says Boris Johnson’s daughter Lara Lettice Johnson-Wheeler in her blog I’m Not A Party Girl. Instead the PM and his ex-wife Marina Wheeler threw her a Henry VIII-themed bash. “My parents got the neighbour’s nanny to dress up as an executioner,” says Johnson-Wheeler, 28. “Most of the children were horrified, particularly when Anne Boleyn lost her head (a balloon and ketchup were involved).” For the birthday girl, it was just another day in the life as Boris’s child. “To be honest, I was kind of used to it.” 

Tomorrow’s world

Concorde is set for a comeback, says Graeme Paton in The Times. Several companies are racing to make the next supersonic aircraft, and Spike Aerospace’s S-512 could be the winner. Predicted to enter commercial service in 2028, the $120m plane will travel at 1,200mph, whizzing passengers from New York to London in three hours. From an environmental stance, the news is less good, says aviation writer David Learmount. The planes will guzzle fuel and tickets will cost a fortune. “The world really won’t take kindly to the hyper-rich flying around the world in climate-destroying capsules.” 

Quoted

Quoted 26-07

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.”

WH Auden

Snapshot answer

It’s Adam Peaty, training in his garden near Loughborough. The Olympic swimmer, who won a gold medal for the 100 metres breaststroke this morning, has a gruelling training routine. He swims 35-40 hours a week, eats 8,000 calories a day and unwinds with regular ice baths. In lockdown, Peaty had no access to a pool, so British Swimming installed a Jacuzzi in his garden. It produces a powerful current, which he has to swim against.


22 July


In the headlines

Empty supermarket shelves are prompting fears that panic buying will return as the “pingdemic” strikes supply lines. It’s “shelf isolation”, says Metro. A close ally of Dominic Cummings has called his claim that he and a “few dozen” colleagues plotted to oust Boris Johnson days after the 2019 election “total bollocks”. The insider tells Henry Zeffman in The Times that “his friends have been telling him for weeks to stop”. The director of the opening ceremony for the Olympics has been sacked for anti-semitism a day before the Tokyo Games begin. Today is Prince George’s eighth birthday – he’s “officially old enough to stop wearing shorts”, says Marie Claire. 

Comment of the day

 

 

Gone viral

Here’s professional cliff diver David Colturi leaping into the Cave of Light, a natural pool on Ibiza. A team of divers sponsored by Red Bull made the perilous 82ft jump from a narrow rock in the cliff face. They had to dive 20ft away from the platform to ensure that they cleared the rocks and hit the tiny landing spot – a leap of faith Colturi, a 32-year-old American, described as “nerve-racking”. 

Tomorrow’s world

Dubai is so hot – temperatures in the emirate recently topped 50C – that the government is paying top boffins to make it rain. And it works. Scientists from the University of Reading have zapped clouds with electricity using drones. Jolting the water droplets in the clouds clumps them together, creating larger raindrops that fall to the ground instead of evaporating midair (the normal fate of water droplets under the baking desert sun).

Noted

Tomatoes can make themselves taste worse to ward off insects, says the Telegraph. Australian researchers report that when the fruit senses bugs nearby, it sends electrical signals to the main plant, which floods itself with chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide – used in bleach and hair dye – so the fruit tastes appalling.

Quoted

Quoted 22-07

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

George Burns

Snapshot answer

It’s a wedding dress made out of face masks. The dress was stitched together by British designer Tom Silverwood using 1,500 recycled face coverings. It has two purposes, he says on the wedding website Hitched: to mark the lifting of restrictions of weddings and to raise awareness of mask waste. Britons throw away an estimated 100 million disposable masks every week. 

Zeitgeist

A police chief in southwest Russia who used traffic permit bribes worth £187,000 to build a “palatial” home, with a gold toilet, baroque mirrors, a double-ended bath and a bathroom chandelier, has been sacked for corruption. After appraising Colonel Alexei Safonov’s garish residence in Stavropol, one Russian newspaper lamented: “It’s sad that in 30 years we’ve learnt how to steal, but not how to spend the money.”

21 July

In the headlines

France will double the number of police patrolling its beaches, using £54m from the Home Office, after 287 migrants made it to England in 12 boats yesterday. The number of people heading across the Channel this year has now overtaken the total for 2020, including 1,000 in the past three days. Calm, sunny seas are encouraging crossings. Jeff Bezos went to the edge of space for 11 minutes yesterday afternoon. “Best day ever,” he said as he left his capsule. More than a million children missed school last week because of Covid, and the British Meat Processors Association has warned the Today programme that Britain’s “pingdemic” is threatening food supply chains. 

Comment of the day

 

 

Noted

A “tornado” of mosquitoes has been captured on film in eastern Russia. In recent years temperature increases attributed to climate change have intensified the “giant pillars” of frenzied mozzies looking for a mate on the Kamchatka peninsula. “Move over, Sharknado,” says the New York Post. 

Zeitgeist

Jeff Bezos went to space and back yesterday – but how did his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, feel about the journey? Pretty positive, one Twitter user thought: “Hard to imagine a better divorce outcome than getting 50 billion dollars and then your ex literally leaves the planet.” 

Tomorrow’s world

Invasive feral pigs pose a bigger climate risk than a million cars. Australian researchers estimate that, over five continents, 4.9 million metric tons of trapped carbon dixoide are released each year by pestilent pigs digging for food. That’s the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions from 1.1 million passenger vehicles.

Quoted

Quoted 21-07

Happy is what you realise you are a fraction of a second before it’s too late.”

Author Ali Smith

Snapshot answer

It’s Sajid Javid. The Health Secretary, who tested positive for Covid on Saturday, is celebrating his 24th wedding anniversary with his wife, Laura – in isolation. Javid shared a wedding picture on Twitter with the caption: “To the love of my life. Happy 24th wedding anniversary! (Not quite how we planned to spend it).” 

Love etc

Pornhub has made an unexpected entrance into the art world by “re-enacting” masterpieces with adult movie stars. Botticelli’s Venus is played by Cicciolina (a porn star and former Italian MP who married artist Jeff Koons), and the Renaissance portrait morphs into an orgy. Titian’s Venus of Urbino suddenly starts masturbating. Sex-crazed art fans may be won over, but museums aren’t happy – the Louvre and the Uffizi are suing Pornhub for reproducing the images without permission.


20 July


In the headlines

Vaccine passports are to be made compulsory for nightclubs in September, although many believe this will have to happen much sooner. Tory MPs are worried that the PM will emulate his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, who reopened nightclubs last month, saw a huge rise in Covid cases, then had to reimpose restrictions, apologising for his “error of judgement”. In an interview with the BBC last night, Dominic Cummings claimed Boris Johnson told him last October: “I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelmed stuff.” He reportedly said he wanted to let Covid “wash through the country” rather than ruin the economy. The Met Office has issued its first-ever “extreme heat warning”. Parts of the UK could reach 33C today – hotter than Tenerife. 

Comment of the day

 

 

Weather

The largest wildfire in America has burnt through more than 340,000 acres of land in Oregon. Thousands of people have been evacuated and more than 2,000 are battling the blaze. This is a new style of fire, says Henry Fountain in The New York Times. It’s so large and so hot that it is changing the weather, causing 140mph winds, clouds and “fire tornados”. “Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

Noted

Reading past articles about Afghanistan is “illuminating”, says investigative reporter Iain Overton on Twitter. Here’s one that didn’t age well: “We won the war (in Afghanistan), using high explosives and the newest technology, with almost indecent ease.” That was Ben Macintyre in The Times on 31 August, 2002. 

Tomorrow’s world

Lab-grown foie gras made from goose and duck stem cells is proving a revelation in France, says Bloomberg. Parisian start-up Gourmey grows “remarkably good” livers in stainless-steel tanks, harvested from a single fertilised egg and made in vitro. It has raised $10m in seed funding and received state backing. The game could be up for the cruel practice of stuffing feed down a bird’s throat until its liver swells, known as gavage

Noted

American kids watched so much Peppa Pig during the pandemic, they developed British accents and started using words such as “holiday” instead of “vacation,” says The Wall Street Journal. One Californian youngster asked her mother, in a polished British accent: “Mummy, are you going to the optician?” Another in Rhode Island demanded: “Can we turn the telly on?”

Quoted

Quoted 20-07

“Once Bezos is in space we are going to have just 11 minutes to change the locks on the entire planet. It’s going to be tight; we can do it.

Andrew Hunter Murray on Twitter

Zeitgeist

Oxford dons should stop “throwing tantrums” over statues and focus on addressing the inequalities of today, says Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda in the Telegraph. Making a fuss over a statue of Cecil Rhodes is a “dazzling sign of western privilege”, according to Oriel College’s only African tutor. Patriarchy in Victorian Britain was “in many ways still better than the conditions girls and women currently endure in several African countries”. 

Snapshot answer

It’s former 007 Pierce Brosnan, who is planning an exhibition of his artwork for the first time. I started painting “one dark night in 1987”, the Irish actor wrote on Instagram. Since then he has sold a portrait of Bob Dylan for £1.1m. Now he’s flogging paintings of naked women, a still life of earplugs and a portrait of a man wearing a necklace made of Swiss cheese.

19 July

In the headlines

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will spend Freedom Day self-isolating after their Cabinet colleague Sajid Javid tested positive for coronavirus. With new cases surging towards 100,000 a day, one minister said last night: “I just can’t escape the feeling that this is all about to go terribly wrong.” Roula Khalaf, the FT’s editor, is among 180 journalists targeted by an Israeli spyware company, says The Guardian. NSO reportedly selected possible civilian targets for its clients, using technology that extracts smartphone data and hijacks a phone’s microphone to eavesdrop. Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix yesterday following a dramatic first-lap crash with title rival Max Verstappen, who labelled Hamilton’s driving “unsportsmanlike”. 

Comment of the day

The pandemic

Don’t call this Freedom Day, Boris 

We were promised Freedom Day, says Camilla Tominey in The Daily Telegraph, but instead we’ve got “FRINO (Freedom in Name Only)”, a watered-down return to “nothing remotely resembling normal”. Despite millions of vaccines, we’re more restricted than we were last summer thanks to the government’s “incomprehensible” travel policy and the “ludicrous” test-and-trace system, which in some cases is “pinging people through walls”.

 

 

Zeitgeist

Like many women, I abandoned bras in lockdown, says Dayna Evans in The Cut. And even now we are unlocked, I won’t be putting one back on. “The thought of returning my boobs to any state of confinement has left me horrified. How could I go back to imprisoning my ladies after a wondrous year of letting them roam?” I’ve weathered a global pandemic and “have bigger things to worry about than how to restrain some fatty tissue on my chest”. This summer, miserable bras, with their prodding wires and tight straps, can step aside: “I’m only here to have fun.”

Quirk of history

Forty years ago this month, Prince Charles married Diana Spencer in St Paul’s Cathedral. Among the thousands of people desperate to catch a glimpse of the couple was a 14-year-old David Cameron, says Emma Craigie in The Mail on Sunday. The future PM was so excited, he arrived at 10am the day before the wedding “to bag a good spot in The Mall and set up camp”. He stayed there for more than 24 hours until Diana emerged the next day at 11.20am.  

Noted

We don’t need “higher taxes on sugar and salt” or “the prescribing of fruit and vegetables by GPs”, says India Knight in The Sunday Times. We simply need to teach people to cook. Just as “few lung surgeons are smokers”, so people who can cook don’t usually eat rubbish. Instead they have decent, nutritious diets. It’s “ludicrous” our schools don’t teach future adults how to feed themselves. Okay, you’d have to build a few kitchens, but bad eating costs the UK £74bn a year and causes 64,000 needless deaths, so that seems like “the tiniest price to pay”. 

On the money

Neighbours of a luxury flat in Chelsea owned by the Vatican have complained about “hellish noise” from late-night parties at the “unoccupied” triplex apartment, says the FT. Residents of Hans Place, one of London’s most expensive addresses, have written to the council and the Pope’s ambassador to the UK to moan about loud events, sometimes involving DJs, at the flat, which is available to rent for £30,000 a week. It recently had a pool installed as part of a multimillion-pound refurb. 

On the way out

Rounders, which is being quietly dropped from the curriculum, with prep schools saying the number of girls playing cricket has doubled in two years. Twice as many girls as boys have signed up for cricket matches next year. Schools attribute this to the rise of professional women’s cricket.

Snapshot answer

It’s a building site in Manhattan that has been turned into a citrus-themed art installation. Citrovia, as it’s called, was originally going to be a construction shed at the bottom of a 58-storey office tower. Instead the developer has created a zesty walkway with 18ft lemon trees, 700 lemon sculptures and a constant stream of lemon-scented air freshener. 

Quoted

Quoted 19-07

I have a small mind and I mean to use it.

French writer Antonin Artaud