Notes and shorts from around the world
Snakes thrived in the apocalypse
The asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago was dire news for the dinosaurs, and most other life forms too: 76% of plants and animals are thought to have been wiped out, but research published recently suggests there was at least one winner from the mass extinction – snakes. In the aftermath of the asteroid strike, when dust shrouded the Sun, lowering temperatures and plunging the Earth into darkness for a decade, snakes would have been better equipped than most animals to survive the new conditions. Able to hunt in the dark, they can also go up to a year without food. Since rival species had been wiped out, the researchers believe they thrived when conditions started to return to normal, and were able to move into and colonise a range of new habitats. Some even crossed continents. As they adapted to these environments, they developed new and different traits, and so gradually evolved into the multiplicity of species we know today. “Our research suggests extinction acted as a form of creative destruction,” said Dr Nick Longrich, from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. “By wiping out old species, it allowed survivors to exploit the gaps in the ecosystem, experimenting with new lifestyles and habitats.”
Has France found its Trump?
A new far right star could turn next year’s French presidential election upside down. The polemicist Éric Zemmour draws large audiences on his weekly TV show on the CNews channel, with provocative rants against Muslims and liberals. He is upstaging the less fiery Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right National Rally and the main challenger to Emmanuel Macron. Zemmour, who comes from an Algerian Jewish background, is a nationalist reactionary with slicked back hair and an intense gaze. He believes France is dying – he wrote a bestseller called Le Suicide Français – and subscribes to the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory, contending that the native population will be replaced by Muslims. He has called for a ban on foreign-sounding names, and has twice been fined for inciting racial hatred. Although Zemmour has not officially announced his candidacy, he is likely to declare soon. And he could be a serious contender. Polls suggest about one in five voters largely agrees with what he says. Ironically, though, he is likely to take most of his votes from Le Pen – which would in fact smooth Macron’s path to victory.
“Nothing is as dangerous for the state as those who would govern kingdoms with maxims found in books.” – Cardinal Richelieu, French cleric and statesman
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