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Can Pollution Save the Planet? Plus. . .

Bernard-Henri Lévy asks: Does France face a ‘civil war’? The fight at Wikipedia. Suzy Weiss on the original girlboss. And much more.

Was Diane von Furstenberg the original girlboss? Can Wikipedia be trusted? Is there such a thing as good pollution? And is tonight’s presidential debate destined to suck? All this and more on today’s Front Page from The Free Press. 

But first, for our lead story: the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy lays out what’s at stake in the country’s parliamentary elections ahead of the first round of voting this weekend. 

PARIS — Does France face a “civil war”? That is what President Emmanuel Macron has warned is at stake this Sunday as we head to the polls to vote in the snap elections he called in the wake of his party’s defeat at the hands of the far right in last month’s European Parliament vote. 

Critics accuse him of using a strategy of fear to rally his base to turn out, but Macron is right about this fact: our upcoming election could be a turning point in the history of France.

The populist right and the populist left are both polling ahead of Macron’s centrist bloc. The far-right bloc, led by the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, is polling at 38.5 percent. Meantime, a populist bloc on the left that has dubbed itself the Popular Front, in memory of the social-democratic adventure of the Popular Front of 1936, is polling at 28.6 percent. And Macron’s centrist bloc? It’s trailing at 20.5 percent.

Many voters say they will hold their noses and reluctantly support one of the leading factions, but only to block the other one, who they view as an existential threat to the Republic. 

For a classical liberal and a proud Jew—and I am both—the choices are dire.

Continue reading for more on the choice before the French electorate. 

  1. Six in ten Americans plan to watch tonight’s presidential debate, according to a new AP poll. The survey did not ask whether they would do so from behind the couch. (AP

  2. J.D. Vance said in a Fox interview Wednesday that he’d be “disappointed” if he wasn’t picked to be Trump’s running mate. The veepstakes are heating up, and Vance reportedly alternates between the top two spots on the former president’s shortlist. (Axios

  3. A month after Trump’s conviction, Joe Biden has a slight lead in the 538/ABC national polling average. It’s the first time the president has had the lead this year, but Trump still leads in battleground states. (The Liberal Patriot

  4. Does all that mean the race is a toss-up? Not according to 538 founder Nate Silver. Now going it alone on his excellent Substack, Nate launched his election model yesterday and gives Donald Trump a 66 percent chance of victory in November. (Silver Bulletin

  5. The Supreme Court looks poised to restore access to emergency abortions in Idaho. A 6–3 decision was briefly posted on the Supreme Court’s website on Wednesday. Was the publication an honest mistake—or something else? (Bloomberg

  6. Kenyan president William Ruto has withdrawn controversial tax hikes after mass youth rallies against the move. On Tuesday, clashes between police and protesters turned violent, with at least 22 people dead and many more wounded. (CBS

  7. How worried should we be about bird flu, really? One nation is taking no chances. Finland is the first country to offer a vaccine for the virus. How many cases have been detected in humans? Precisely zero. So why bother? It’s something to do with mink. (Reuters)

  8. Trump-backed candidates had a rough night in primaries on Tuesday. High-profile primaries for House races in South Carolina and Colorado as well as a Senate race in Utah were all won by candidates Trump did not endorse. Combine that with Squad member Jamaal Bowman’s defeat in New York and the bipartisan trend is toward the center. (The Hill

  9. Both RFK Jr. and Donald Trump spoke at the Libertarian Party’s convention last month. It was the latest and clearest sign of the minor party’s major identity crisis. Liz Wolfe breaks down what is going on—and asks whether America’s third party is effectively defunct. (Reason)

  10. Apparently, more and more men are “rawdogging” flights. The unfortunate term refers to eschewing all on-board entertainment and just staring at the back of the seat in front of you. I say: let the men decompress, it’s okay to be bored for a few hours, and looking at the flight map counts as fun. (GQ

During the first months of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, India’s government imposed one of the most draconian lockdowns anywhere in the democratic world. I happened to be in Mumbai at that time, where you couldn’t go more than half a mile from your home except for essential purposes. Unpleasant as this was, there was one positive side effect: the notoriously polluted skies of Mumbai—like those of other big Indian cities, from Delhi to Bangalore—suddenly became much clearer. With far fewer cars on the road, factories shut, and flights grounded, the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere fell to their lowest rate in 20 years. 

Then came the negative side effect. That summer, India experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Globally, the year 2020 was one of the warmest on record; the average temperature in India that year was 0.29 Celsius degrees hotter (roughly 0.52 degrees Fahrenheit) than during 1981–2010.

This is no coincidence. It is well known that aerosols make clouds bigger, brighter, and more reflective; when they decrease, more sunlight reaches the earth, which leads to higher temperatures. And a 2023 study showed how, during the pandemic, clearer skies across South Asia increased climate warming.

As we clean up the environment, we must be conscious of this trade-off. I was reminded of my lockdown in India a few weeks ago, when it was reported that an attempt to cleanse one of the world’s most polluting industries has, unfortunately, exacerbated global warming. Continue reading. 

→ Fight night: Who’s excited about tonight’s presidential debate? Let me try that again. Who’s excited about tonight’s presidential debate?! Okay, not many of you. And frankly, neither am I. But let’s at least take a second to note its weirdness. The same two candidates who squared off in unedifying shouting matches four years ago will do so again. Except one of them is now a convicted felon, and the other is noticeably slower. And neither of them has actually been nominated by their parties yet—this is the earliest a presidential debate has ever been held. And there won’t be an audience. And it’s not totally clear that Donald Trump will show up. But other than that, tonight will be a great festival of democracy. 

The pundits are asking questions like: Who will win over the record number of “double haters”? One Wall Street Journal headline calls tonight’s event “the presidential debate that could start World War III.” Veteran Washington Post columnist George Will offers his readers a “comforting” thought about the matchup: that one of Trump and Biden must lose. (But that means one of them has to win, George!) 

The gloom is understandable—after all, negativity is what both men do best. But even—or perhaps especially—when it comes to these two unpopular candidates, I think there’s an appetite for some forward-looking optimism—and that a large number of votes would go to whichever candidate actually bothers to present a road map to a brighter tomorrow. Whether we get that tonight, however, is another matter.   

REMINDER: Not all debates suck. Just check out the freshly released video of our recent debate on criminal justice reform in San Francisco, which is available in full on our site to paid subscribers. Here’s the trailer: 

→ Wikipedia is not a reliable source: Wikipedia recently decided that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is not a “reliable source” on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The decision was made by three Wikipedia editors, known only by the following pseudonyms: The Wordsmith, theleekycauldron, and Tamzin (pronouns: “they/xe”). 

These three editors—yes, these are the people deciding what we can and cannot see when we’re scrolling Wikipedia late at night—said they made their decision on the grounds that the ADL is both a research and advocacy organization. While they say that the ADL “is a generally reliable source,” they insisted that the organization should not be cited on topics relating to the Israel-Hamas war. On Tuesday, more than forty Jewish groups signed a letter sent to the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, saying that the decision “is stripping the Jewish community of the right to defend itself from the hatred that targets our community.” As a rule, the foundation does not intervene in the site’s editorial process, so a reversal of the decision is unlikely.

So who does Wikipedia consider reliable on this subject?

One example is a man named Salman Abu Sitta, a Palestinian activist who wrote that “Nothing can hide the determination and courage of those young people who returned to their land on October 7.” (He was the first cited source on the Wiki page 1948 Palestinian expulsion and flight.) Wikipedia also considers Al Jazeera—a Qatari-sponsored news organization that has described the October 7 pogrom as “heroic”—a “reliable source”: on its page Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Al Jazeera is cited without skepticism seven times. On the page for the October 7 attacks, Wikipedia absolves Hamas of its antisemitism, describing how in 2017 the terrorist group “adopted a new charter, removing antisemitic language and shifting focus from Jews to Zionists.” We could go on like this all day. —Julia Steinberg

→ Diane von Furstenberg is on a mission to be free: The new Diane von Furstenberg documentary, Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge, frames the 77-year-old Belgian designer as the world’s first girlboss: an entrepreneur unafraid to be sexy as she kicked down the doors of the boys’ club in her stilettos. 

But while she is, yes, wildly successful and self-possessed, her animating principle isn’t progressivism or gender equality but an endless quest for freedom. 

Von Furstenberg sought sexual freedom since she went to boarding school, falling in love with a man and then a woman in quick succession, and then, as she got older, everyone else. She said of leaving Prince Egon von Furstenberg, her first husband with whom she had two kids, “Divorce was freedom.” She described her iconic wrap dress, a form-fitting, printed jersey blockbuster as the “uniform for freedom.” She says of the crowd at Studio 54, “We thought we had invented freedom.”

She even chafes at the title of fashion designer, saying instead, “I had a vocation to be a free woman.” 

Von Furstenberg’s obsession with being free is all downstream of the fact that her mother Lily was a prisoner of the Nazis, weighing 49 pounds when she was liberated from Auschwitz. Doctors told Lily it would be impossible to have a child. Soon after, Diane was born in Brussels, with a mission, it seems, to push liberation as far as she could. 

Another wrinkle in the plot to make von Furstenberg into a boss babe fighting the patriarchy: she refuses to be a victim. 

The director asks if any men made her feel uncomfortable early in her career. “I would never give anyone that much credit,” she says. A New Yorker reporter said that von Furstenberg “didn’t fit the mold” of a second-wave feminist because she “wore fishnet stockings and heels.” He asked von Furstenberg if she felt accepted by that movement, to which she offered, “I don’t know. I never asked them.” He then brings up sex positivity, to which von Furstenberg replies, “What did you say? ‘Sex-positive’? What does that mean?”

And unlike the girlboss of the 2010s, von Furstenberg doesn’t care how her image—which is of a rich, bisexual vixen—is received, or how her politics come off, or what it says about her that she married two fabulously wealthy men (her second husband is Barry Diller) who, we’re meant to understand, are both gay. It didn’t matter, and in the documentary, you see that she loves them both. Fidelity, domesticity, or stability were not the point of her marriages—freedom was—and they both offered her that. 

There are drawbacks, though, to being this free. Her daughter describes being neglected while her mother went out on the town every night. She seems alienated from her own feelings, never crying in the movie and remarking flatly while looking at a cattle car, the same kind that would’ve shipped her mother to a concentration camp, “Crazy, huh?” She says she’s not afraid to die, even though she thinks about it “all the time.” 

Most of us will never be as free as Diane von Furstenberg, and plenty of us don’t even want that level of freedom. She went the whole way with it, accepting that being free and doing what you want ups the risk of being burned, exposed, and judged. Like that perfect dress, she wears it with pride. —Suzy Weiss 

Single readers, it’s that time of the week again! Welcome back to another installment of Free Press Lonely Hearts. Happy soulmate searching to all, and if you’re feeling lucky—or lonely—drop us a line

Sarah Cocciardi, Albuquerque 

Hello, gentlemen. I’m a native New Yorker who has been living in Albuquerque for the past six years. I look for someone with quirks. Here are a few of mine: I’m a speech pathologist with a stutter and I was raised in a cult. When not working with clients with developmental disabilities through my agency, I love to hike, trail run, bike, camp, paddleboard, thrift, and rearrange my loft. I also have one daughter. Give me a shout if you think we’d vibe.

Ayrton de Beauffort, NYC

My name is Ayrton. I was born in Belgium, grew up in Florida, and currently live in New York, where I work in finance. If you’re wondering about my name, it’s Brazilian, and I was named after the race car driver Ayrton Senna. I speak three languages (humblebrag) and have been to 45 countries (not-so-humblebrag). I love tennis, hiking, a good slice of pizza, and a good cocktail. I am looking for a masculine man who wants to have kids and raise a family. I’m in New York but not obsessed with it and open to moving within the U.S. or to Europe. Anyone want to try having a Before Sunrise experience? Reach me at the nerdiest, oldest email of all time.

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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