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31 May

In the headlines

Fewer than half of Britain’s train services are running today, as staff walk out in the first of three rail strikes this week. There will be similar levels of disruption on Friday and Saturday, affecting events including the FA Cup final and a Beyoncé gig. At least 350 AI experts have signed a 22-word statement warning of the technology’s existential risks. Backed by figures including Sam Altman, whose company created ChatGPT, it reads: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” New Yorkers gathered in the streets for “Manhattanhenge” last night, a biannual spectacle in which the sunset lines up with the city’s grid of skyscrapers. The next occurrence will be in July, and in winter the same thing happens with the sunrise.

Eating in

Our recent “martini madness” is moving “out of the glass and on to the dinner plate”, says Bettina Makalintal in Eater. Chefs are creating dishes inspired by the cocktail’s ingredients, from a “crisp, salty and olivey” martini salad dressing to a “dirty martini pasta” incorporating gin, olive oil and lemon zest. Other cooks are sharing recipes for gin-spiked oysters and “crispy smashed chicken breasts” served with a gin and sage sauce, which have a distinct martini-vibe. The whole thing actually makes “complete – and kind of obvious – sense”: for many meals, a combination of salt and a hint of botanicals is the perfect addition.

Inside politics

British Europhiles think of the continent as a beacon of left-wing progressivism compared to our own “irredeemably reactionary” island, says Nigel Jones in The Spectator. They’re dead wrong. In Spain, the right and far-right “dealt a hammer blow” to the left in Sunday’s regional elections. A week earlier, Greece’s conservative government “trounced the left-wing opposition” in a general election. Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, comes from a party with “neo-fascist” roots; in Germany and France, centre-left and centrist governments are in “dire trouble”. Poland, Hungary and Sweden are already led by conservatives. If Labour takes power in Britain next year, it will be “butting against the headwinds” sweeping the rest of Europe.

Quirk of history

Fifteen years ago today – the night before Boris Johnson banned boozing on the Tube – there was a final “blow out on the Circle line”, says Vice. Groups of lads cracked open beers, nudging up against “women sipping champagne in full 1950s garb”. They mingled with “hippies, pirates, posh girls, half-naked men, and someone who inexplicably decided to bring their terrier”. Thousands massed in Liverpool Street Station and crammed into trains, until police shut the party down. It was all organised by James Darling, a 20-year-old with a “Facebook event and a dream”. He led the rabble drinking home-made sloe gin from a hip flask.


Tesla’s Model Y has become the world’s best-selling car, says The Verge, the first time an electric vehicle has ever held the top spot. Despite costing around twice as much as the two Toyota models it overtook – the Corolla and RAV4 – the $47,490 EV sold 267,000 units in the first three months of 2023, a roughly 69% year-on-year increase. “Tesla’s meme-lord CEO, Elon Musk, will no doubt approve.”


“Behind the scenes at a literary festival is a dangerous place,” says Jack Blackburn in The Times. Backstage at one event, the historian William Dalrymple asked novelist Alexander McCall Smith how old his readers were. McCall Smith said some were young, some less so. Dalrymple replied that his own fans were “really ancient” – whereupon they realised that their microphones were on, so the audience could hear every word they were saying. “It doesn’t matter,” McCall Smith told him. “If your readers are as old as you say they are, they won’t have heard what you said.”


They’re “wingsails”, a hybrid between wings and sails that could be “the future of sea travel”, says Wired. Inspired by high-performance racing yachts, they consist of two parts: a steel core and a flap that draws air on to it. Next year, a prototype will be fitted on to a 14-year-old cargo ship to see how much it helps reduce fossil fuel consumption. Oceanbird, its creator, says the wingsail could reduce carbon emissions by 10% on retro-fitted ships, and at least 60% on new vessels.


quoted 31.5.23

“Never speak ill of yourself. Your friends will say enough on that subject.”

French diplomat Talleyrand