Why are the French taking a chance on Le Pen?

💌 Stamp secrets | 🌳 Formidable forests | 🌋 Loopy landscapes

In the headlines

The US Supreme Court has ruled that presidents have some immunity from criminal prosecution for their actions in office, indefinitely delaying the prosecution of Donald Trump for his alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election result. “In the very week that the nation celebrates its founding,” says the New York Times, the court has “undermined the reason for the American Revolution” and taken a step towards “restoring the monarchy”. The UK armed forces are unprepared for “conflict of any scale”, a senior official has warned. Rob Johnson, who led a Ministry of Defence unit to assess the country’s readiness for war, says the military is operating with a “bare minimum” of resources and “cannot defend the British homelands properly”. Britons spend 38,000 hours watching TV in their lifetime, says the Daily Star. The 99 minutes a day we spend glued to the box, on average, add up to more than four years of the typical lifespan.

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Douceur de vivre. Getty

Why are the French taking a chance on Le Pen?

Sitting in a little bar overlooking a jaunty marina in Brittany, “the douceur de vivre is palpable”, says Sean Thomas in The Spectator. For five days I have been struck that from boulangeries to pavements to motorway service stations, “France gleams”. Their healthcare is “far better” than ours, they live longer, have much less obesity, enjoy lovely wine and the food is still pretty good. Why, then, are they so “miserable and pessimistic” that they fancy an electoral flutter on Marine Le Pen? Yes, Marseille has become “horribly dangerous” in recent years, but nothing like Sweden, where “bombed-out, rapey Malmö is basically Syria with open sandwiches”. And they can’t be too cross about immigration. They’ve suffered nothing close to the 2.3 million who poured into Britain between 2020 and 2023, when it turned out the Tories’ “points-based system” meant “if you can vaguely point in the direction of Britain, we’ll let you in”.

My theory is that votes for Le Pen are not votes for racism or xenophobia, but to “protect what France has left”. A few minutes from here is the seat of the Le Pen dynasty, “a kind of French Kennedy compound”. A few kilometres on are the “great megalithic alignments of Carnac”, the oldest continuously inhabited place in France. If you grow up here, you know that France is a lucky country – “big, beautiful, sunny and bountiful” – but you look at Marseille and Paris and see how easily good fortune can be squandered. A vote for National Rally is a “prayerful wish” to defend that “lovely France”, and prevent it being spoiled. It is a vote for summer sun slanting over yachts in jaunty marinas and “pretty blonde girls ferrying baguettes on bicycles”.

Photography

These photographs of surreal places around the world have racked up 23 million views on X. They include the spot where the dunes of the Namib desert meet the ocean; a swimmer floating above the Eye of the Earth natural spring in Croatia; a woman cycling on the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia; an otherworldly view of Mont Saint-Michel in France; the Rainbow Mountain in Peru; and an “underwater waterfall” in Mauritius – an optical illusion caused by sand and silt draining from the ocean floor. See more here.

Election watch

🗳️ 2 days to go...
Voters who backed the Conservatives in 2019 who plan to vote Tory at the next election have been in steady decline for some years, says Tom McTague in UnHerd. According to the pollster Andrew Cooper, before Partygate the proportion had already dropped to 84%. By the height of that crisis, that number had plummeted to the mid-60s, before falling to the low 50s after Liz Truss’s disastrous mini budget. Since Rishi Sunak took over, it’s fallen again, steeply, to 44%. “And that’s on Sunak.”

Quirk of history

Was there a secret message? Rufus Sewell in Middlemarch (1994)

In Victorian times, the way you positioned a stamp on an envelope allowed you to send coded secret messages, says the Sitepoint blog. Placing it in the bottom right-hand corner asked “when are you coming to see me?” Tilting the stamp to the left in the upper right-hand corner was a way of saying “I’m longing to see you”. This postal vernacular quickly became a way to conduct long-distance flirtations in a time of rigid morals: skewing a stamp to the left in the top left-hand corner of the envelope sent the recipient a kiss, while sticking it upside down meant “I love you truly”.

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Biden during the presidential debate last week. Justin Sullivan/Getty

The Democrats are stuck with Sleepy Joe

For anyone who saw Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week, the conclusion was clear, says Jay Caspian Kang in The New Yorker: the president has to go. A few days later, it seems just as clear that the Democrats will plough on with his candidacy until November. For one thing, there’s no obvious replacement. Nobody backs Kamala Harris, but how do Democrats “sell the optics” of ignoring the normal succession protocols for the first female, non-white vice-president? As for the possible alternatives: why would California governor Gavin Newsom risk a losing tilt at office instead of waiting for the more credible 2028 run he was gearing up for anyway? And the much-mentioned Gretchen Whitmer has no meaningful national profile.

None of this really matters, says Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. The whole debacle has left the American empire looking “old and tacky”. If Ronald Reagan was, in the words of Gore Vidal, “a triumph of the embalmer’s art”, Biden looks like an “ostrich stuffed by an amateur”. Feel no pity: he’s a narcissist who can’t see his own limits. A truly “wise, compassionate and patriotic man”, to borrow some of the titles bestowed on “Caesar Arthritis” by his liberal media bootlickers, would have settled for one term and used it to groom a successor. Not Sleepy Joe. And to those hoping his wife Jill will find herself inclined to talk some sense into him, think again. Jill Biden reminds me of Woodrow Wilson’s wife Edith. When the president had a stroke, she simply locked him in the bedroom, pretended he was fine and took over the management of the country.

Nature

Our planet is home to over 73,000 species of trees, says Moss and Fog. Among the very rarest are the Quiver Tree, native to South Africa and Namibia, with tall branches and star-shaped blooms; the Monkey Puzzle – which is so similar to species from ancient prehistory that it’s often referred to as a living fossil; the Dragon’s Blood Tree, with a distinctive tight-packed canopy that looks like an umbrella; and the world’s rarest tree, the Baobab. Known to live for over 2,400 years, their hefty trunks can hold up to 32,000 gallons of water, allowing them to weather the harsh conditions of their native Africa.

Global update

Poland is spending around $2.5bn fortifying its borders with Russia and Belarus, says Foreign Policy. The Poles are building fences and forts of course, but perhaps more surprisingly, they’re also spending millions planting woods. History shows it works. “God may have put Finland next to Russia, but at least he also graced the small country with forests.” During the 1939-40 Winter War, the trees between the two countries “dramatically slowed what the enormous Red Army had thought would be a cakewalk”.

Snapshot

Snapshot answer

It’s Theodore Roosevelt’s prized pocket watch, says AP news, given to him by his sister in 1898. In 1987, it went from “museum piece to pilfered prize” when it was stolen from an unlocked case while out on loan. The presidential timepiece was missing for almost four decades before it turned up at a Florida auction house last year and was seized by federal agents. “This was feel-good news,” said Tweed Roosevelt, Teddy’s 82-year-old great-grandson, “it kind of felt like almost as if a piece of TR’s spirit being returned ... like a little bit of him was coming back.”

Quoted

“Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy

That’s it. You’re done.