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3-4 June

Behind the headlines

Could AI wipe out humanity?

This week, more than 350 artificial intelligence experts signed a 22-word statement warning that humanity faces “extinction” unless the risks of the technology are properly mitigated. The big danger, says the so-called “godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton on The Daily, is that these machines will stop at nothing to achieve what we ask them to do. Say you tasked an advanced AI with making money for you: it would happily break into an online banking system and steal funds, or buy oil futures and foment a revolution in Central Africa to boost prices. These machines are essentially “psychopaths”, devoid of any moral compass.

Inside politics

Few British politicians “embody the capitalist spirit” more than Rishi Sunak, says Kate Andrews in The Spectator. He’s a graduate of Stanford business school, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and the richest prime minister in history. As chancellor, he was a “fiscal hawk” perpetually trying to rein in Boris Johnson’s spendthrift instincts. But now he is in No 10, he is residing over a state twice as big as that of the 1970s, and the highest tax burden of Britain’s postwar history. “These are government interventions that Tories would have once mocked” – indeed, even Labour has derided the recent proposal for “voluntary” supermarket price caps. The PM likes to make big speeches criticising the “ever-expanding state” and praising free enterprise. “But governments are judged by what they do, not what they say.” And the more he steals Labour’s economic playbook, the more “leeway” he gives the opposition to go even further once they get back into power.


Succession has become an obsession of the chattering classes, says Ed Cumming in The Daily Telegraph. The Guardian compared it to Shakespeare; The Independent called it “the best television series ever made”. On-screen choices of “costume, wine and swear words” were pored over for evidence of character, as if these figures were “inscrutable world leaders” rather than fictional brats. “Look, I liked it too.” But something about Succession has provoked a “complete loss of perspective”. Outside the media bubble, people barely watch it. In America, the final episode was watched by 2.9 million people. For comparison, 76 million tuned in for the Seinfeld finale, and Friends got 52 million. In the UK, fewer than 600,000 people saw the climax of the show – a quarter of the number that watched Jeremy Paxman’s final outing on University Challenge.


quoted Welles 3.2.23

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Staying young

John D Rockefeller lived to 97. His doctor once revealed his simple secrets: “First, he avoids all worry. Second, he takes plenty of exercise in the open air. Third, he gets up from the table a little hungry.”


The barn

This spacious three-bedroom barn conversion has stunning views across the Somerset countryside. The property has wooden beams, high ceilings and French doors, but is otherwise empty, offering an exciting renovation project for prospective buyers. Bristol and Bath are both less than an hour’s drive. £400,000.

The pile

Otterburn Castle in Northumberland dates to the reign of William the Conqueror. It retains many of its historic fittings, from stone-mullioned windows and a huge oak-panelled dining room to a carved staircase and an ornate Florentine marble fireplace. There are 18 bedrooms, including two in the castle’s tower, and the 32 acres of gardens include ancient woodlands and a small lake. The nearby town of Bellingham has several pubs and restaurants, and good public transport links across the north. £3m.



quoted Auden 4.6.23

“A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

WH Auden

2 June

In the headlines

A blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer could massively speed up diagnosis, a new study has found. In a trial of 5,000 people, the screening correctly revealed the disease in two out of three instances, and pinpointed the original site of the cancer in 85% of positive cases. The US Senate has voted through a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling, days before the country would have had to default on payments. Pretending that we’re about to go bankrupt every two years is “the most idiotic ritual our elected leaders in Washington regularly perform”, says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. A Scottish funeral firm is selling a coffin shaped like a Greggs sausage roll to “help make a difficult day a little lighter”, says Sky News. Other custom-made caskets by Go As You Please include ones modelled on the Doctor Who Tardis, a pint of Tennent’s lager, and a Dyson vacuum box.

Gone viral

This clip showing climbers queuing to reach the summit of Mount Everest has racked up 700,000 views on Twitter. “Ewww,” says one unimpressed user, “it’s even worse than the lines at Costco 😂.”


Since the Russian invasion, dozens of rich Ukrainian families have fled to villas in the south of France, says Le Monde. This hasn’t gone down well back home, as all men between 18 and 60 are legally obliged to make themselves available for military service. The Ukrainian press has given the elite emigrés a nickname: the “Monaco Battalion”.


Canada is going to print health warning labels directly on to cigarettes. Each fag will come adorned with a scary phrase like “Cigarettes cause cancer” or “Poison in every puff”. The country’s health agency says the new regulations will make it “virtually impossible” to smoke without being warned of the dangers.

Inside politics

Joe Biden had a big fall on stage at a US Air Force Academy graduation ceremony yesterday, reviving concerns about whether the 80-year-old is physically up to a second term. The President says he tripped on a sandbag.


A pub landlord in Worcestershire won £50,000 yesterday when cricketer Josh Tongue made his Test debut for England at Lord’s. Back when Tongue was 11, Tim Piper, who runs the Cricketers Arms in Redditch, bet £100 that he would one day represent his country, at odds of 500-1. Piper first rang the bookies to bet on the fast bowler’s prospects when he was six, “but they didn’t take it seriously”, he tells The Daily Telegraph. “I’m not sure why.”


It’s the world’s only albino panda, which has been spotted for the third time ever in China’s Sichuan province. The ivory-coloured bear, which is around six years old, appears to be completely healthy. Unusual-looking animals often struggle with socialisation, but, cheerily, the albino’s fellow pandas don’t seem perturbed by its appearance, and were spotted happily playing with it.


quoted 2.6.23

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”

Truman Capote

1 June

In the headlines

Australia’s most-decorated living soldier has lost a defamation case against three newspapers that accused him of war crimes. A judge ruled that Ben Roberts-Smith, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2011, committed multiple murders while serving with Australia’s SAS in Afghanistan, and ordered subordinates to carry out illegal killings. UK house prices have fallen at their fastest annual pace in nearly 14 years. They dipped 3.4% in the 12 months to May, as rising mortgage rates dampened demand. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody could have been called Mongolian Rhapsody. Handwritten lyrics from the 1975 song, which are going on auction in September along with other possessions of Freddie Mercury, feature the title with “Mongolian” crossed out and “Bohemian” written above it.


TikTokers are going wild for “sea glass nails”, says Bustle, a type of manicure inspired by the “beautifully smooth remnants of old glass bottles” found on the shore. The glossy look can be achieved in several ways: adding clear drops of glue to simulate tiny water droplets; blending together blue and green hues while still wet to create an ombre effect; and adding flecks of teal glitter to suggest “sparkly sea spray”. It’s a subtle tribute to the beach – a way to embrace “mermaidcore” without having to wear a Little Mermaid-style shell bra.

On the money

American chipmaker Nvidia has been on a monster stock-market tear, says Axios, briefly achieving an ultra-rare trillion-dollar valuation this week. Over the past 10 years its share price has risen more than 10,000%, the best performance of any major firm in that period. But of course, it’s not out of the question that Nvidia is nearing “some sort of sugar-rush peak”. In November 2021, Tesla was up 19,000% on the previous decade; since then, about 10,000 percentage points of that gain have disappeared.

Nice work if you can get it

“There’s nothing like the casual antics of an A-list celebrity’s kid to make you feel like a total loser,” says Danielle Cohen in The Cut. Take Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of Beyoncé and Jay Z, who has just started her summer job. Instead of scooping ice cream for £10 an hour, she’s performing as a backing dancer on her mum’s world tour. Eagle-eyed fans spotted the 11-year-old strutting around during the tracks Black Parade, Power and Alright at Beyoncé’s Paris gig last weekend, which was attended by 80,000 people. “Celebrities may be just like us, but their children absolutely are not.”


Plenty of people don’t understand why so much fuss has been made over Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, says David Mitchell in The Observer. It’s simple: their relationship never rang true. For years, Holly and Phil made out that they were “devoted buddies”. They went on holiday together; in 2016, they released tongue-in-cheek photos of themselves on the beach with Phil in an “I ❤️ HW” t-shirt and Holly in an “I ❤️ PS” one. Yet something never felt right. It was partly the 19-year age gap – Schofield has, or had, been on telly since Willoughby was four – and partly that it just didn’t seem real. “The audience didn’t buy it and felt patronised. So when the lie is exposed, that’s box office.”


To The Economist:

Bartleby wrote about employers looking for soft skills when they hire someone (13 May). I was always keen on employing the very best people. The most effective way to hire the right match was for me to sweep the parking lot upon the candidate’s arrival, pushing a broom and looking busy. I would say “Hello”, wait and observe. It was much more effective than any of the usual techniques.

André Moncheur de Rieudotte, Idaho


It’s a beluga whale that has been spotted nosing around Scandinavia, prompting speculation that it’s a spy trained by the Russian navy. First seen in 2019, the suspicious sea mammal spent three years tracking down the Norwegian coast and has now moved across to Swedish waters. Marine biologists say he’s unusually relaxed around humans, and was first discovered wearing a harness with a mount suitable for an action camera, bearing the words “Equipment St Petersburg”. 🕵️‍♀️🐳


quoted 1.6.23

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

Oscar Wilde

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

30 May

In the headlines

A rare drone attack on Moscow damaged several buildings early this morning. Russia’s defence ministry blamed Kyiv for the operation, and said eight remote-operated aircraft were involved, most of which were shot down. The government is refusing to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages to the Covid inquiry. The Cabinet Office claims some of the requested material is “unambiguously irrelevant”, and may launch a legal challenge to prevent its disclosure. Drinking two cups of tea a day helps protect your memory as you age, says The Sun. According to a new study, the flavanol chemicals naturally found in cuppas boost brain power and recall ability. 🫖🧠

The great escape

Ten American lighthouses are to be given away for free or sold at auction. GPS technology has rendered the seaside sentinels pointless, but the government still wants to preserve them: most are more than a century old, and remain popular tourist attractions and beloved local landmarks. Beacon buildings on offer include the 181-year-old octagonal Gurnet Light in Massachusetts, and the Cleveland Harbour West Pierhead Light, a 50ft steel tower built in 1911 that is only accessible by boat. See the others here.

Inside politics

When I ask audiences at events whether anyone can explain Labour’s economic policy, says Alastair Campbell in The New European, the uptake typically hovers around zero. One hand did go up from a woman in Harrogate – but she turned out to be a Labour candidate. This should be a worry for Keir Starmer. The public clearly want the Tories gone. But for Labour to make the sort of changes needed to get the economy and the country back on track, they’ll need “positive buy-in” for the agenda they’re proposing. “And you cannot get that buy-in without widespread understanding of what it is.”

On the way back

Gen Z couples are spurning restaurants in favour of picnics, says Smithsonian Magazine. As with so much these days, the return of the outdoor date is largely driven by Instagram and people wanting to showcase their “style and originality”. It’s a far cry from the al fresco assignation’s more “raucous beginnings”. The word pique-nique first appeared in a bawdy 17th-century French poem that featured a gluttonous character by that name. In the 18th century a clique of London Francophiles launched the Pic-Nic Society, a (largely indoor) dining club in Marylebone where each guest had to bring a dish and six bottles of wine.


The Chinese character for “penguin” (企鹅) is made up of the characters for “business” (企) and “goose” (鹅). Sounds about right.

Love etc

Time-stretched couples are using shared spreadsheets and calendars for marriage admin, says Bustle. It’s just like assigning tasks and blocking out time at work, but instead you’re clocking hours at home, managing household chores and tracking who takes the kids to school. Many schedule admin meetings to make any necessary household purchases and reservations for the week ahead. According to one advocate, it helps keep “unsexy and frankly annoying” conversations – such as about “taxes and tree pruning” – to a single session, rather than them cropping up all week.


It’s a species of “toxic” caterpillar that’s spreading across the UK. The oak processionary moth has microscopic hairs that can be carried on the wind and cause nasty rashes in humans. First identified in 2006 near Kew Gardens – where the species’ eggs were imported on an oak tree – the pests were largely confined to southwest London for a decade. But now they are spreading at a rate of about five miles a year, covering an area from Colchester to Southampton. Last year, forestry experts spotted 3,573 infected trees, with 225 Brits suffering from contact with the harmful hairs.


quoted 30.5.23

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.”

American philosopher William James