Russia has released five British fighters captured in Ukraine as part of a prisoner swap brokered by Saudi Arabia. Shaun Pinner, one of two British volunteers who were previously sentenced to death by a Kremlin-backed court, says they escaped execution “by the skin of our teeth”. Donald Trump and three of his children are being sued for fraud by the state of New York. In the new case against them, the Trumps are accused of inflating the value of assets, such as listing a $220m Manhattan property at $524m, to secure better loans from banks. “It’s the art of the steal,” says Attorney General Letitia James. Unborn babies prefer carrots to kale, says The Guardian. Scans of foetuses after their mothers had eaten the vegetables found they were twice as likely to have a “crying expression” after the kale, and twice as likely to have a “laughter-like expression” after the carrot.
David Beckham reaching the front of the queue to visit the Queen’s coffin. Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty
Arise, Sir David? It’s about time
“It’s beginning to get ridiculous,” says Louis Chilton in The Independent. What more does David Beckham have to do to bag a knighthood? Over the weekend, the former footballer was spotted waiting 13 hours “with the rest of the hoi polloi” to see the Queen, rather than flexing his celebrity status to skip the line. It’s just the latest development in his bid for national treasure status. Beckham has captained England’s football team, ferried the Olympic torch along the Thames, held meetings at Downing Street to tackle global food poverty, and even flown out to Afghanistan to “gladhand” with British troops. Short of “recolonising some small part of the Asian continent”, there’s little more he could do to endear himself to the establishment.
There are a few possible reasons why he’s still stuck on an OBE: historic alleged involvement in a tax avoidance scheme; the fact he “never came close to winning anything big with England”. And for much of his life, Beckham seemed at odds with “blue-blooded respectability”. He married a pop star, was covered in tattoos, and once sported a mohawk. But it’s hard to reconcile the hot-blooded “showboater” of two decades ago with “the besuited, low-key figure” in the queue to see the Queen. He is a man who has “done the graft and pressed all the right buttons”. Just give him the gong already.
🏅🙊 One possible reason for the omission, says the Upshot, could be the time Becks was caught branding the honours committee “unappreciative c***s” in leaked emails, and rejecting any other awards with a firm policy of: “Unless it’s a knighthood f*** off.”
Intrepid travellers will once again be able to fly in luxury airships, says Bloomberg, if the ambitions of OceanSky Cruises bear fruit. In February 2024, the Sweden-based company is planning to launch trips for up to 16 passengers between the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and the North Pole. OceanSky plans to transform the Airlander 10 airship, a model developed for US Army surveillance, into “a fusion of sightseeing vehicle and floating luxury hotel”, complete with a glass-bottomed observation room. Potential passengers can forget about the explosive disasters of the past: modern airships use helium rather than flammable hydrogen, and their balloons are divided into “multiple internal chambers”. Reserve your cabin here.
According to this year’s “emoji trend report” – a breakdown of American texters’ preferences by software company Adobe – the three most popular symbols are 😂, 👍 and ❤️. To woo a new beau or belle, the top three emojis to use are 😘, 🥰 and 😍. The three most likely to ruin your chances are 💩, 😠 and 🍆.
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The Kremlin has reportedly banned airlines from selling flights to men aged 18 to 65, after one-way tickets out of Moscow sold out following fears that ordinary Russians could be conscripted to fight in Ukraine. Online searches for “how to leave Russia” topped Google’s search terms on Tuesday night, when Putin was originally scheduled to address the nation. On Wednesday, after he announced the mass mobilisation of 300,000 reservists, searches for “how to break an arm at home” peaked.
Biden and MBS meeting in Riyadh in July
Why MBS misses the Trumps
The embarrassment of Joe Biden fist-bumping Saudi Arabia’s autocratic crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, “would have been worth the gain” if it had undercut Russia, says Edward Luce in the FT. But since Biden’s cap-in-hand visit to the kingdom in July, MBS seems only to have “moved closer to Putin”. There are three reasons why the prince is such a “recurring thorn” in America’s side. The first is financial: Biden needs the recent drop in oil prices to stick, both to curb Putin’s dollar earnings and boost his own electoral prospects back home. But MBS has offered little more than a “token” rise in oil output. His motive “may be more monetary than geopolitical” – higher oil prices mean boosted Saudi income. “But collateral damage to Biden is a bonus.”
Then there’s MBS’s hostility to hectoring Western liberals. Unlike Donald Trump and his “predilection for strongmen”, Biden insists on extolling the virtues of democracy. Saudi Arabia’s recent jailing of two dissidents for a combined 79 years – “extreme even by the standards of strongmen” – shows how little Prince Mohammed cares for Biden’s concerns. The final reason is personal: MBS “viscerally prefers” Trump and his family to the boring Bidens. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund invested $2bn in Jared Kushner’s private equity firm, despite a screening panel finding its operations “unsatisfactory in all aspects”. For the Saudi regime, the best way for relations with America to improve would simply be for Biden to be replaced by a different president – preferably Trump.
American health officials have warned TikTokers not to try cooking “sleepy chicken”, says Olivia Truffaut-Wong in The Cut. The bizarre trend involves drenching meat with NyQuil, or other over-the-counter cold medicine, to create the doze-inducing dish. One video features the person preparing the nightmare concoction complaining that even the steam “really makes you sleepy”. The health department’s candid response: “The challenge sounds silly and unappetising – and it is.”
Thriller writer Felix Francis tells an excellent anecdote about Winston Churchill, says Patrick Kidd in The Times, “which may even be true”. The great wartime PM was heading to Broadcasting House to address the nation after a military success, but the official car would not start, so he took a cab and asked the driver to wait for him to finish. “Sorry guvnor,” the driver replied, “but Winston Churchill is on the wireless in half an hour and I want to get home to listen.” Touched, Churchill tipped him a fiver, which prompted the cabbie to reconsider. “All right guvnor, I’ll wait for you,” he said. “Bugger Churchill.”
It’s a startlingly clear snap of Comet Leonard, taken by Gerald Rhemann as the icy dirtball streaked across the sky on Christmas Day. The picture won him top prize in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Extraordinarily, Rhemann managed to capture the exact moment the meteor’s gas tail disconnected from its body and was swept away in the solar wind.
“A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.”
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