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We’re covering Boris Johnson’s promises to speed up Brexit talks, how Giuseppe Conte went from irrelevant to irreplaceable and a chicken-sandwich battle for the ages.
Mr. Johnson promised that Britain’s Brexit negotiators would sit down with their European counterparts twice a week through September, with the possibility of additional technical meetings, to try to reach a deal that would avert the risk of a cliff-edge departure.
“While I have been encouraged with my discussions with E.U. leaders over recent weeks that there is a willingness to talk about alternatives to the anti-democratic backstop,” he said in comments released by his office, “it is now time for both sides to step up the tempo.”
Details: The Conservative Party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, resigned, and Lord Young of Cookham, a former cabinet minister, resigned as a Conservative whip in the House of Lords on Thursday.
Meaning: The move seemed to acknowledge the mounting concern about the suspension of Parliament, a decision that provoked spontaneous protests in London and other cities.
How Giuseppe Conte became irreplaceable
The departing prime minister of Italy, after 14 months of being ignored and mocked, has been using his resignation last week to catapult himself into a leading role in the country’s government.
In accepting the mandate to form a government on Thursday, Mr. Conte said that he wanted to win back lost time “to allow Italy, a founding member of the European Union, to rise again as a protagonist” and “transform this moment of crisis into an opportunity.”
What’s next: Mr. Conte will now begin meetings with all party leaders and is expected next week to submit to President Sergio Mattarella a cabinet that, if approved, will be brought to Parliament for a confidence vote.
Reminder: Mr. Conte will preside over a populist/anti-populist coalition between the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party.
What genes say (and don’t say) about sexuality
An ambitious new study found that many genes play a role in sexual behavior, and that there is no one “gay gene.”
The study in the journal Science found that genes account for perhaps a third of the influence on whether someone has same-sex sex, along with social and environmental factors.
“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behavior is,” said one of the lead researchers. “It’s written into our genes and it’s part of our environment. This is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”
Perspective: One of the study’s researchers and a colleague, both gay men, parse the implications and limitations of the work in an Op-Ed.
Accused of recruiting for Jeffrey Epstein
The Times is reporting on disturbing new accusations that Jeffrey Epstein relied on a ring of women close to him to feed his insatiable appetite for girls.
Mr. Epstein’s accusers contend in court papers that his onetime partner Ghislaine Maxwell, along with a small cadre of other women — including several assistants and one referred to as Ms. Maxwell’s “lieutenant” — helped Mr. Epstein lure girls into his orbit and managed the logistics of his encounters with them.
Legal dilemma: Experts also told The Times that prosecutors may struggle in deciding whether to charge the women, because some may have initially been victims themselves.
If you have 8 minutes, this is worth it
Those excluded from France’s sacred August holidays
France is famous for its long summer vacations. In Paris, handwritten notes pop up on the doors of the local bakery, brasserie or locksmith indicating that the owners are away and that you should be, too.
But for many, vacations are becoming increasingly out of reach financially, especially as traditional summer hot spots cater to high-income clients. The gap reflects an increasingly unequal French society — another sign of the things that gave rise to the Yellow Vest movement.
Here’s what else is happening
Measles: There is a “dramatic resurgence” in the disease on the Continent, the World Health Organization said — fueled in part by a rising wave of people who are refusing to be vaccinated. Albania, Britain, the Czech Republic and Greece joined 12 other nations where the disease is endemic.
Hurricane Dorian: The powerful storm is on course to hit Florida as a Category 4 hurricane. It could start as early as Saturday night, with winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Forecasters predict that the hurricane will drop 4 to 8 inches of rain, with up to a foot in some areas.
Climate change: The Trump administration laid out a far-reaching plan to cut back on the regulation of methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change.
Colombia: A former rebel commander called for a return to arms, saying the government has failed to honor the peace deal that ended a 52-year war.
Snapshot: Above, a Popeyes location that sold out of chicken sandwiches in New York, after Twitter insults led to the most successful product launch in the fast-food chain’s history. A viral social media debate between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A had customers flocking to restaurants across the country to see for themselves — and it turned into a logistical headache.
U.S. Open: Taylor Townsend upset the Wimbledon champion Simona Halep for the biggest win of her career. Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old who has captivated the tennis world, beat Timea Babos to reach the third round. Next she will face the defending champion, Naomi Osaka.
What we’re reading: This piece in The Atlantic. Remy Tumin, on the Briefings team, says: “My friend and former colleague Peter Brannen finds the geologic — and deeply disturbing — meaning of fires like those in the Amazon. They summon ‘creatures long dead to return to Earth’s surface and give up the ancient energy they took to the grave,’ he writes.”
Now, a break from the news
Listen: Lana Del Rey’s fifth major-label album, “Norman ____ Rockwell!,” is a collaboration with Jack Antonoff packed with fiery lyrics.
Smarter Living: One thing you can do for the environment is drive less. Our Climate Fwd: newsletter did the math for the U.S. Since Americans drive trillions of miles every year, a 10 percent reduction would equal taking about 28 coal-fired power plants offline for a year. Short trips are the lowest-hanging fruit — you can ditch the car and walk, bike or take public transit.
And if you use Slack to escape from email hell, we can help you keep it from taking over your life.
And now for the Back Story on …
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
The Marvel Comics character turns 80 on Saturday. Created by the writer-artist Bill Everett, he has been a villain, a hero, a corporate tycoon and more.
In his origin story, published on Aug. 31, 1939, he is a force of nature personified. Two divers who spot him in the ocean depths are in awe of “the long strokes of his powerful arms.”
Under water, his hair and skin color vary. On land, he has brown hair and is Caucasian — closer to his modern look.
The cartoonist Art Spiegelman, writing about how fascism shaped the golden age of comics in the 1940s, noted that the volatile Sub-Mariner was “a marked contrast to the square and square-jawed vigilante do-gooders who lived in the less scruffy DC Comics neighbourhood.”
The reason for Namor’s rage resonates today: undersea explosions set off by a scientific expedition. With the kingdom of Atlantis threatened, his mother tells him, “It is your duty to lead us into battle!” And so he has, for eight decades and counting.
That’s it for this briefing. We’re off on Monday for the U.S. Labor Day holiday. See you next time.
Mark Josephson, Eleanor Stanford and Chris Harcum provided the break from the news. George Gustines, a senior editor for graphics and video, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about Uber’s struggle to make a profit.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Philosopher John who lent his name to a “Lost” character (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• On Thursday, we distributed 2,000 copies of the Times Magazine special issue “The 1619 Project,” along with a related newspaper section, for free to readers outside our headquarters in New York.
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