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Women vs. men: retiring chess queen checkmates herself

Judit Polgár, the only woman in history capable of competing with men at the highest level, has retired at age 38.

Judit became a grandmaster at 15 years and four months, beating Bobby Fischer’s record by a month.

Since her teens she has been in and out of the world’s top ten, having won games against, among others, world champions both past (Kasparov) and present (Carlsen).

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The arithmetic of humanitarian aid, Putin-style

First the humanitarian aid, as widely reported:

Last night a convoy of 280 KamAz lorries left the town of Narofominsk near Moscow, heading for the distressed eastern provinces of the Ukraine.

They carry 2,000 tonnes of cargo comprised of humanitarian aid for the Ukraine: cereals, sugar, baby food, medicines, sleeping bags and power generators.

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Empty Paris, full Louvre – it would be better the other way around

Yesterday I saved €38, which is more than I can say for my sanity.

The sum in question is the cost of a day’s parking at Vinci, the Paris chain of underground garages.

What none of my French friends knows but I’ve found out is that Vinci forfeits the charge on one’s birthday, which for me was yesterday.

Call me a penny pincher, but this is one of the reasons we always spend 10 August in Paris, less than two hours away from our summer hiding place.

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The Times, taking its cue from American neocons

One would think that our papers don’t need lessons in demagoguery. They, right, left or centre, have become experts on it. No outside help necessary, thank you very much.

Ideas, however, may run out, at which time it’s natural to turn to those who have them in abundance. Or at least, in our intellectually barren times, those who have one basic idea but repeat it so often, and in so many different contexts, that it seems to be multiplying before our very eyes.

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Don’t get your milk out for the lads

Compared to the cataclysmic events unfolding in the Ukraine and throughout the Middle East, the two items that caught my eye in today’s papers may seem insignificant.

But, as the modern banality goes, less is more. Sometimes it’s tiny stories that tell a big one.

One such story involves a Buckinghamshire woman who was banned from breastfeeding her baby in public, by poolside to be exact.

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What Dubya said, Putin does

George W. Bush had a way with words that made Mrs Malaprop come across as a precise stylist.

In one of his more memorable pronouncements, Dubya declared: “Our enemies… never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Dubya was trying to reassure Americans that his efforts to protect the country matched the efforts of those trying to harm it. Alas, his verbal proficiency wasn’t quite up to the task of enunciating even simple thoughts.

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How to end 2,000 years of Christianity in the Middle East

In common with all sensible men, I’m uneasy about conspiracy theories – this without denying that perfectly non-theoretical conspiracies have been known to exist (bolshevism springs to mind).

In that spirit, and in contradiction to plentiful evidence, I don’t believe Messrs Bush and Blair hatched a plot to drive Christianity out of the Middle East.

Yet I struggle to imagine what they would have done differently had that indeed been their aim.

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One unequivocally positive outcome of the Gaza conflict

Now that the Gaza ceasefire seems to be holding up, post-mortems are the order of the day (no pun intended).

The Israelis credibly claim they’ve achieved their military objectives: destroying the tunnels out of which terrorists crawl like deadly rats, wiping out rocket launchers, killing high-ranking murderers and in general teaching Hamas a lesson that may take some time to unlearn.

Hamas, on the other hand, claims a moral victory, meaning a PR one (morality is these days measured in mass appeal).

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Islamic crusade, masked as ‘tolerance’

The Times refuses to rest on its laurels.

Having set seemingly impossible standards of ignorance and dishonesty, the paper still strives to exceed them, as demonstrated by two articles run a couple of days ago.

One of them supports Rowan Williams’s assertion that Muslims make an invaluable contribution to British life, and he didn’t just mean those corner shops open at all hours.

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A war to end all civilisation

A hundred years ago the West talked itself into suicide.

All sorts of geopolitical, national and economic reasons have been put forth as an explanation, and an argument could be made for each one.

Prussian militarism was to blame, as was French revanchism, Habsburg stubbornness, Russian yearning for the Straits, British fear of Germany’s ascendancy.

Yet all those were pretexts, not the reason, for the suicide. The sides were simply trying to post-rationalise the intuitive craving they all shared: to finish off Western civilisation once and for all.

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