Is Macron “playing with fire”?

🤖 Beauty queen | 🚿 Mosley’s magic | 🥸 Renaissance spy kit

In the headlines

Rishi Sunak has put tax cuts at the heart of the Tory manifesto, says the FT. The 76-page document, unveiled this morning, includes promises to reduce National Insurance by another 2p, abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers of properties costing up to £425,000, and cut levies on landlords who sell to tenants. Labour called it “the most expensive panic attack in history”. Senior Hamas officials say they accept a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution, which is backed by the US and previously proposed by Israel. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was a “hopeful sign”, but that the plan’s fate was now “down to one person”: the terror group’s leader Yahya Sinwar, who is thought to be hiding in the tunnels beneath Gaza. Elephants call each other by name, new research suggests. The massive mammals use unique, low-frequency rumbles to call to friends, with each animal recognising its own “name”.


Is Macron “playing with fire”?

Since Sunday evening, says Solenn de Royer in Le Monde, commentators have been arguing over what metaphor best describes Emmanuel Macron dissolving the French parliament after the historic victory of the far-right National Rally (RN) in the European elections. “Sorcerer’s apprentice? Poker player? Pyromaniac fireman?” His closest advisers insist the plan has been in the works for weeks, and somehow kept secret. Whatever the truth, what’s obvious is that Macron was looking for a way to “save himself on a night of humiliating defeat”. Because despite “all the levers at his disposal”, the president failed to achieve his “main objective” in the ballot – stopping the RN. On Sunday night, opposition parties were unanimous: “Macronism is over.”

The dissolution gambit therefore has certain advantages. Macron, “fond of Gallic posturing”, is desperate to show the disenchanted French that he remains “master of the game, full of bravado”. Dissolving parliament “masks his personal failure” and acts as a distraction. It also silences the growing discontent among his own parliamentary coalition, reframing the situation as a “deadly face-off between populists and progressives” – essentially “me or chaos”. He is trying to transform the present atmosphere of “all against Macron” into “all against the RN”. That’s an “insanely risky” strategy – anti-Macronism was one of the major drivers of the European election. The most likely outcome is a parliament that is “even more fragmented and ungovernable” than it is today. “By playing with fire, the head of state could end up burning himself. And dragging the whole country into the blaze with him.”

Gone viral

Rob Hoeijmakers

This remarkably geometric photo has racked up more than a million likes on Instagram. Dutch photographer Rob Hoeijmakers tells PetaPixel he was out for a bike ride just south of Amsterdam when he happened upon a canal next to a road that was closed for maintenance. Many online commenters assumed the image had been photoshopped or generated by AI, but Hoeijmakers says he was just taking advantage of the famous Dutch landscape: “roads, canals, all going straight forever”.


At the D-Day commemorations last week, says Christopher Hope in The Daily Telegraph, a couple of male dignitaries got talking. “And what do you do?” said one of the men to the other, who was dressed in full military uniform. “I’m the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe,” he replied. “You?”


Peter Sommer fell in love with travel in 1994, when he walked 2,000 miles from Troy across Turkey, retracing the route of Alexander the Great. An archaeologist by training, he began organising and leading historical tours in 1996, and set up Peter Sommer Travels in 2002. Twenty-two years later, Peter, his wife Elin and their team continue to run cultural and archaeological tours – including gulet cruises – for small groups, escorted by top experts. They have won the prestigious Tour Operator of the Year Award in six of the seven years it has been running, and received 750 independent reviews in the past decade – four rated “good”, the other 746 “Excellent”. To find out more, click here.


“I often think of Michael Mosley when I’m taking a shower,” says Emma Reed in The Independent. Thanks to his advice, I turn it to icy cold for 30 seconds at the end to boost my immune system, “perhaps helping my longevity”. This is classic Mosley – no expensive outdoor ice tub or Baltic retreat. Anyone can do it. Like standing on one leg while brushing your teeth, to reduce the risk of falls when you’re older. Or taking a walk to up your vitamin D. Or having a glass of wine, guilt-free. “Make it red, to give those antioxidants a boost.”

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Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998). Miramax/Laurie Sparham/Getty

Trigger warning: stay away from Shakespeare

Shakespeare, along with being widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, “was also a fatphobe”, says Paul Clements in The Independent. We know this because the Royal Shakespeare Company has slapped a trigger warning on its new production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, alerting audiences before curtain-up about the “bodyshaming” of Sir John Falstaff. Naturally, most sane folk are incredulous. “This fashion for trigger warnings,” says Shakespearean actress Janet Suzman, “is both insulting and silly”. The RSC’s old boss Gregory Doran has a simple line for anxious theatregoers: “Don’t come.”

They join a long line of sensible luvvie types who pine for the days when plays were meant to be challenging. Ralph Fiennes points out that without warnings, audiences can engage more fully with productions and be “shocked and disturbed” by violent or sexual themes. When told of the growing vogue, Judi Dench said: “Do they do that? It must be a pretty long trigger warning before King Lear or Titus Andronicus. I can see why they exist, but if you’re that sensitive, don’t go to the theatre.” The problem is progressive directors coming fresh from English degrees in which they learned that the novels of Jane Austen contain “toxic relationships” and that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped “includes scenes of abduction”. Where does it end? I’ve heard of pre-show apologies being made for bad language, “dated attitudes”, on-stage smoking, prop knives, “distressing scenes of music, family and romance”, and even “theatrical fog”. What’s next? No standing ovations because they’re disablist?


Herlufsholm, a private school near Copenhagen

To The Sunday Times:
Further to your article “The big debate: should private schools be abolished?”, perhaps I can give an international perspective. In Denmark – the country of equality – the state subsidises private schools through a voucher system. The private school receives 75% of what it would cost the state to educate each child. The state does this simply because it is already saving money when parents send their children to these schools; and thereby it makes it possible for the children of less wealthy parents to go private too. The English expression “Bob’s your uncle” springs to mind.
Elsebeth Larsen, Bedford

Quirk of history

Europe’s Renaissance spies seem to have been armed by a “distant precursor of Q branch”, says Peter Davidson in Literary Review. Among the weapons spotted by a visitor to the Uffizi in Florence in the 1650s was a device made from “five pistol barrels joined together to be put in your hat”, designed to fire “as you salute your enemy and bid him farewell”. Another was a pistol with 18 barrels, meant to be fired only in desperation – the bullets would “scatter through a room” in all directions. Then there was the “dag”, a short revolver which allowed the holder to bump off enemies at close range. A “deluxe version” came stealthily concealed in a book of devotions.


Snapshot answer

It’s Aiyana Rainbow, a finalist in the inaugural “Miss AI” beauty pageant. All the contestants are totally made up, says NPR – they exist “only on social media”, primarily Instagram. Some of the characters can even be seen talking and moving about in videos. And although these beauty queens are not real, there is hard cash – $5,000 – awaiting the winner. According to the British firm hosting the event, a panel of four judges selected the 10 finalists from more than 1,500 submissions. Oddly, two of the four judges are themselves digital avatars made using AI. 🤖🤷


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke

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