Biden’s goose is cooked. Can he be replaced?

💃 5.57 TaylorBytes | 💊 Mortal multivitamins | 🏝️ Expanding islands

In the headlines

Democrats are in a full-blown panic over Joe Biden’s “abject” performance in his first TV debate with Donald Trump last night, says CNN. The 81-year-old showed his age from the start, giving meandering and incoherent answers in a voice so weak it was often “reduced to a whisper”. There are now “serious conversations” among senior party figures over whether he should drop out of the race. A patient in England has died and more than 120 others have been hospitalised in an E.coli outbreak. The cases have been traced back to lettuce contained in some sandwiches and salads sold in major supermarkets and retail chains. Scientists in South Africa are implanting nuclear material into rhino horns to prevent poaching. The aim is to make the keratin cones poisonous for human consumption and unfit for use in traditional Chinese medicine. 🦏 ☢️


Biden’s goose is cooked. Can he be replaced?

The US president has been a friend of mine since we traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan together after 9/11, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. So I say this with great sadness: “Joe Biden, a good man and a good president, has no business running for re-election.” Watching his stumbling, mumbling performance in last night’s debate “made me weep”. Until now, I had been ready to give the 81-year-old the benefit of the doubt, since every time I saw him one-on-one he seemed up to the job. “He clearly is not any longer.” His family and staff must know this – they’ve spent the past week holed up at Camp David preparing him. “If that is the best performance they could summon from him, it’s time for Joe to keep the dignity he deserves and leave the stage.”

There’s still time to choose a replacement, says Edward Luce in the FT, but only if Biden can be persuaded to step aside. And he is a stubborn man. “Most presidents are.” Potential substitutes, such as California governor Gavin Newsom and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, are unlikely to stick their necks out for fear of being labelled traitors. And any succession battle comes with significant risk. Nobody, Biden included, thinks Vice President Kamala Harris is any good – but because she’s the first female and non-white vice-president, it would be “provocative” for him to endorse anyone else. Either way, a decision needs to be made in the next few days. Bill Clinton once said Americans prefer “strong and wrong” to “weak and right”. If Biden clings on, that will be the choice voters face come November.

🎤😬 Because Donald Trump ruined the first 2020 debate by constantly interrupting, Biden’s team insisted that microphones be switched off except during candidates’ allotted speaking time. That backfired badly, says The New York Times. Instead of cutting him off, Trump was able to sit back and let the president tie himself in verbal knots, such as: “We’re able to make every single solitary person … eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the, uh, with – with the Covid, or excuse me, with, dealing with, everything we have to do with, uh … Look … If … We finally beat Medicare.” While the 2020 head-to-head was defined by “unintelligible cross-talk”, last night’s match-up will be remembered for Biden’s “stammering attempts to fill his allotted time”.

On the way up

Not going anywhere: the South Male Atoll, Maldives. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty

As sea levels rise, atoll nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu have long claimed they are “doomed to vanish”, says The New York Times. But many aren’t shrinking at all. “Some have even grown.” One study of data on 709 islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans found that “nearly 89% either had increased in area or hadn’t changed much in recent decades”. It’s because currents and waves are constantly bringing fresh sand ashore from coral reefs, where dead corals, algae, crustaceans and other organisms are crushed into sediment. The upshot: the islands’ inhabitants have longer than they thought to “figure out how to cope with their changing environment”.

Election watch

🗳️ 6 days to go…
Look at any newspaper website in the final few days of the election race, says Patrick Maguire in The Times, and you’ll see them plastered with Labour adverts. When rumours began circulating about an early election, some 24 hours or so before Rishi Sunak made the announcement, Labour’s campaign director “snapped up” all the advertising space in the run-up to 4 July. Incredibly, despite knowing they were about to call the election, the Tories hadn’t got there first. “Perhaps they were busy in the bookies.”


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An Egyptian-inspired postmodern home in Oxfordshire has become the youngest listed building in the UK. Sphinx Hill, completed in 1999 by British architecture studio John Outram Associates, is described by Historic England as a “tour-de-force of domestic post-modernism”. Its eclectic façade is broadly symmetrical, with three barrel-vaulted roofs and an attic opening on the central space designed to resemble the eye of Horus. Inside, Egyptian limestone flooring is complemented by mosaics, bold-coloured columns and loads of bronze. See more pictures here.

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An Indian farmer cleaning his solar panels. Rebecca Conway/Getty

Solar power can save the world

It’s 70 years since the first solar power technology was unveiled, says The Economist. Today, solar panels across the planet occupy an area half the size of Wales, providing the world with about 6% of its electricity. Capacity grows roughly ten-fold each decade, a level of sustained growth “seldom seen in anything that matters”. For context, the next ten-fold jump will be equivalent to multiplying the world’s entire fleet of nuclear reactors by eight in less time than it typically takes to build just one of them. Solar cells are on course to be the single biggest source of electricity by the mid 2030s; by the 2040s, they may be the largest source of all energy. And on current trends, the electricity they produce will be less than half the price of the cheapest available today.

This isn’t just “some environmentalist fever dream”. In earlier energy transitions – wood to coal, coal to oil, oil to gas – production or demand, or both, eventually became constrained. “Solar power faces no such constraint.” The resources needed to produce solar cells and farms are silicon-rich sand, sunny places and human ingenuity, “all three of which are abundant”. As for demand, if you make electricity less expensive, people will find more ways to use it. The result is that unlike previous energy sources, solar “has routinely become cheaper and will continue to do so”. Eventually, much of the world – including Africa, where 600 million people “still cannot light their homes” – will start to feel “energy-rich”. For humankind, that will be nothing short of “transformational”.


Staying young

Not only do daily multivitamins not help you live longer, says The Guardian, people who take them have a 4% higher risk of an early death. That’s the conclusion of a major new federally funded study in the US, which looked at data from 400,000 people over 20 years. While multivitamins have been linked to an increased risk of conditions including lung cancer and heart disease, it’s not clear whether the uptick in mortality risk is because the pills themselves are harmful – it may just be that people start taking them when they have the early symptoms of a serious illness. Either way, the study’s authors conclude that “multivitamin use to improve longevity is not supported”.


Snapshot answer

It’s an “absolutely tiny” plant that has been found for the first time in a century, says Smithsonian Magazine. Botanist Grace Glynn had been on the lookout for the false mermaid-weed (Floerkea proserpinacoides) for years, but it always eluded her, and everybody else – it hadn’t been documented in its native Vermont since 1916. She spotted its Lilliputian leaves by chance last month while looking at a picture of a turtle habitat, catching “a glimpse of the elusive flower in the corner of the frame”.


“The best recipe for a party is too much to drink and a chocolate pudding.”
Lady Diana Cooper

That’s it. You’re done.