Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as strikes continue

Rushdi Abu Alouf,David GrittenShare

Reuters A man and a young boy walk among ruins in Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly reached the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and seized a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Witnesses and local journalists said tanks were stationed at al-Awda roundabout, which is considered a key landmark.

They also said tanks were on Zoroub Hill, effectively giving Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a narrow strip of land running along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military said its troops were continuing activities against “terror targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Western areas of the city also came under intense bombardment overnight, residents said, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and a resulting fire on Sunday that killed dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the vicinity.

It also denied reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon that tank shells had hit another camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people.

Reuters news agency cited local health officials as saying the blast occurred after Israeli tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official in the Hamas-run civil defence force also told AFP there had been a deadly Israeli strike on tents.

Videos posted to social media and analysed by BBC Verify showed multiple people with serious injuries, some lying motionless on the ground, near tents and other temporary structures.

There was no clear sign of a blast zone or crater, making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the incident. The location – verified through reference to surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and lies south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone.

The IDF said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi.”

Israel has insisted that victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without taking Rafah and rejected warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The UN says around a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand more could still be sheltering there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the east of Rafah on 6 May.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually pushed into built-up eastern and central areas while also moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they reportedly reached the city centre for the first time.

The al-Awda roundabout, which is only 800m (2,600 ft) from the border, is the location of major banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

One witness said they saw soldiers position themselves at the top of a building overlooking the roundabout and then begin to shoot at anyone who was moving.

Video posted online meanwhile showed tank track marks on a road about 3km west of al-Awda roundabout and 300m from the Indonesian field hospital, which was damaged overnight.

Reuters A Palestinian girl sits on top of possessions being transported by a cart in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
The UN says around a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the Israeli ground operation in the city

Earlier, residents told the BBC that tanks seized Zoroub Hill, about 2.5km north-west of al-Awda roundabout, after gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

The hill is highest point along the Egyptian border and its seizure means the entire Gazan side of the border is now effectively under Israeli control.

Zoroub Hill also overlooks western Rafah, where residents said there had been the heaviest air and artillery strikes overnight since the start of the Israeli operation.

A local journalist said the bombardment forced hundreds of families to seek temporary shelter in the courtyard of a hospital, while ambulances struggled to reach casualties in the affected areas.

At dawn, thousands of people were seen heading north, crammed into cars and lorries and onto carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“The explosions are rattling our tent, my children are frightened, and my sick father makes it impossible for us to escape the darkness,” resident Khaled Mahmoud told the BBC.

“We are supposed to be in a safe zone according to the Israeli army, yet we have not received evacuation orders like those in the eastern [Rafah] region,” he added. “We fear for our lives if no-one steps in to protect us.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not comment on the various reports but put out a statement saying that “overnight troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area”.

“The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area,” it added.

“The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

The IDF has told civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate for their own safety to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, a coastal area just north of Rafah, to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

EPA A Palestinian woman reacts next to tents destroyed by a fire triggered by an Israeli air strike in western Rafah on Sunday, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
Israel’s prime minister said the killing of civilians in an air strike and resulting fire in Rafah on Sunday was a “tragedy”

On Sunday night, at least 45 people – more than half of them children, women and the elderly – were killed when an Israeli air strike triggered a huge fire in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF said it was targeting two senior Hamas officials in the attack, which happened hours after Hamas fighters in south-eastern Rafah launched rockets towards the Israeli city of Tel Aviv for the first time in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic incident” had occurred “despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants” and promised a thorough investigation.

IDF chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a structure used by the Hamas commanders which was away from any tents, using “two munitions with small warheads”.

“Following this strike, a large fire ignited for reasons that are still being investigated. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Rear Adm Hagari added that investigators were looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby structure, and played what he said was an intercepted telephone conversation between two Gazans suggesting that. The audio recording could not immediately be verified.

Sam Rose of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, told the BBC from western Rafah that the killing of so many civilians could not be dismissed as an accident.

“Gaza was already one of the most overcrowded places on the planet. It is absolutely impossible to prosecute a military campaign involving large-scale munitions, strikes from the sky, the sea, the tanks, without exacting large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“It seems like we are plumbing new depths of horror, bloodshed and brutality with every single day. And if this isn’t a wake-up call, then it’s hard to see what will be.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Russian plot to kill Zelensky foiled, Kyiv says

Telegram/SBU Footage shows a man being arrested
Ukraine said it arrested two Ukrainian officials who worked with the Russian security services

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) says it has foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Two Ukrainian government protection unit colonels have been arrested.

The SBU said they were part of a network of agents belonging to the Russian state security service (FSB).

They had reportedly been searching for willing “executors” among Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards to kidnap and kill him.

Ever since Russian paratroopers attempted to land in Kyiv and assassinate President Zelensky in the early hours and days of the full-scale invasion, plots to assassinate him have been commonplace.

The Ukrainian leader said at the start of the invasion he was Russia’s “number one target”.

But this alleged plot stands out from the rest. It involves serving colonels, whose job it was to keep officials and institutions safe, allegedly hired as moles.

Other targets included military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov and SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk, the agency added.

The group had reportedly planned to kill Mr Budanov before Orthodox Easter, which this year fell on 5 May.

According to the SBU, the plotters had aimed to use a mole to get information about his location, which they would then have attacked with rockets, drones and anti-tank grenades.

One of the officers who was later arrested had already bought drones and anti-personnel mines, the SBU said.

Telegram/SBU An anti-tank grenade
The SBU said it found various ordnance, including an anti-tank grenade, on the plotters

SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said the attack was supposed to be “a gift to Putin before the inauguration” – referring to Russia’s Vladimir Putin who was sworn in for a fifth term as president at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

The operation turned into a failure of the Russian special services, Mr Malyuk said.

“But we must not forget – the enemy is strong and experienced, he cannot be underestimated,” he added.

The two Ukrainian officials are being held on suspicion of treason and of preparing a terrorist act.

The SBU said three FSB employees oversaw the organisation and the attack.

One of them, named as Dmytro Perlin, had been recruiting “moles” since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another FSB employee, Oleksiy Kornev, reportedly held “conspiratorial” meetings “in neighbouring European states” before the invasion with one of the Ukrainian colonels arrested.

In a released interrogation with one of the suspects, they can be heard describing how they were paid thousands of dollars directly by parcels or indirectly through their relatives. It is not clear whether he was speaking under duress or not.

Investigators insist they monitored the men throughout. We are unlikely to know how close they came to carrying out their alleged plan.

The plot may read like a thriller but it is also a reminder of the risks Ukraine’s wartime leader faces.

Last month, a Polish man was arrested and charged with planning to co-operate with Russian intelligence services to aid a possible assassination of Mr Zelensky.

At the weekend Ukraine’s president appeared on the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list on unspecified charges.

The foreign ministry in Kyiv condemned the move as showing “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda”, and pointed out that the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest.

China bubble tea chain plunges in Hong Kong debut

Getty Images Woman drinking bubble tea.Getty ImagesChabaidao means 100 varieties of tea

Shares in Chinese bubble tea chain Sichuan Baicha Baidao, which is also known as Chabaidao, have fallen by more than 26% in their first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Chabaidao’s market debut was the Asian financial hub’s largest initial public offering (IPO) so far this year.

The poor performance underscores the difficulties the city is facing in attracting investment.

Chabaidao, which means 100 varieties of tea, is China’s third-biggest fresh tea drinks chain by retail sales.

The Chengdu-based company raised about $330m (£267m) in the IPO even as the offering was met with tepid interest from investors.

The firm said it plans to use about half the money to upgrade its operations and strengthen its supply chain.

Rival bubble tea firms Mixue, Guming and Auntea Jenny have also said they are planning to sell shares in Hong Kong.

However, Chabaidao’s weak debut highlights the challenges faced by authorities as they attempt to revive confidence in the city’s stock market.

Investors are concerned about Hong Kong’s recovery from the pandemic and its national security legislation as well as slowing economic growth in China.

Last year, the amount of money raised by IPOs in Hong Kong slumped to the lowest level in two decades.

The city’s benchmark Hang Seng share index has lost over 16% of its value in the last year.

Last week, China’s securities regulator said it will support share offerings in Hong Kong.

The watchdog also plans to relax regulations rules on stock trading links between the city and the mainland as it tries to boost Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub.

SpaceX gets green light for third Starship test flight

SpaceX’s Starship rocket appears at the company’s launch base in Boca Chica, Texas, in an undated photo. From SpaceX

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.CNN — 

SpaceX is once again set to fly its gargantuan Starship rocket — the most powerful launch vehicle ever constructed — after federal regulators approved the company’s plans for a third test flight.

The launch could take place anytime during a 110-minute window that opens at 7 a.m. CT (8 a.m. ET) Thursday, according to an email from SpaceX sent Wednesday afternoon. A live stream of the event will begin on the company’s website about 30 minutes before takeoff.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches, gave SpaceX the final green light for the mission on Wednesday afternoon.

“The FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy and financial responsibility requirements,” the agency said in a statement.

This test flight comes after two attempts to get the massive Starship vehicle to orbital speeds in 2023 ended in explosions, with the spacecraft and booster erupting into flames before reaching their intended landing sites.

SpaceX is known to embrace fiery mishaps in the early stages of spacecraft development, saying these failures help the company rapidly implement design changes that lead to better results.

Much is riding on Starship’s eventual success. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly characterized the rocket as central to the company’s founding mission: putting humans on Mars for the first time.

Crucially, the Starship spacecraft is also the vehicle NASA has selected to land astronauts launched from the United States on the moon for the first time in more than five decades as part of its Artemis program. The space agency is in a race with China, vying to become first to develop a permanent lunar outpost and set the precedent for deep-space settlements.

The US space agency has committed to investing up to $4 billion in Starship. Under NASA’s current road map, Starship would complete the final leg of the agency’s crewed mission to the moon, taking the astronauts from their spacecraft in lunar orbit and ferrying them down to the surface. The first astronaut landing under the Artemis program is slated to occur as soon as September 2026.

What success looks like for SpaceX

Musk has indicated that he believes Starship has a high chance of successfully completing this third test flight.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I think the probability of reaching orbit is good — 80%,” he said during a recent talk posted to social media. “Certainly the third flight is a much better rocket than flights one or two.”

Musk said before the last Starship test flight in November that the vehicle had about a 50% chance of success. The vehicle was not meant to orbit Earth, but it was intended to reach the breakneck speeds that will be required when the vehicle does go into orbit. (Starship ultimately hit about 24,000 kilometers per hour, or 15,000 miles per hour. Reaching orbit typically requires hitting at least 17,500 miles per hour.)

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The November test flight marked a big improvement compared with Starship’s inaugural liftoff in April 2023, when some of the rocket’s 33 main engines flamed out and the vehicle began tumbling over the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX destroyed the rocket just four minutes into that first flight to prevent it from veering off course.

Starship made it much further in November, successfully igniting all its engines and completing a key flight milestone: stage separation. That’s when the Super Heavy rocket booster — the bottommost portion of the rocket that gives the initial burst of power at liftoff — breaks away from the upper Starship spacecraft, allowing the vehicle to ignite its engines and continue the mission on its own power. But ultimately Starship was destroyed about 10 minutes into flight. If it had gone to plan, the mission would have lasted about an hour and a half.

SpaceX has said its approach to rocket development is geared toward speed. The company makes use of an engineering method called “rapid spiral development.” This process essentially boils down to a desire to build prototypes quickly and willingly blow them up to learn how to construct a better one — faster than if the company solely relied on ground tests and simulations.

After the first and second Starship test flights ended in explosions, the company immediately sought to frame these mishaps as successes. In a statement after the November launch, SpaceX said, “With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary.”

‘Scandals and secrets’: On board the world’s most exclusive private residential ship

The World is an exclusive private residential ship that circumnavigates the world’s oceans. Peter AntonucciCNN — 

It’s a floating city exclusively home to the 1%, a playground for multimillionaires and billionaires that circumnavigates the world’s oceans.

Welcome to The World, an exclusive private residential ship home to 165 superluxe apartments. This vessel is shrouded in secrecy and buying a condo on board is an invite-only situation – you’ve got to be nominated by one resident and seconded by another. A net worth of a cool $10 million is said to be compulsory.

If you’re imagining decadent parties, filled with intrigue and free-flowing champagne – essentially a maritime episode of the HBO series “The White Lotus” – you’re perhaps not far off, at least according to one ex-passenger’s account.

“I’m not saying that everything that happened on ‘The White Lotus’ has happened on The World, but I think, in large measure, the comparison is not inaccurate,” former resident Peter Antonucci tells CNN Travel. 

“There are a lot of wealthy people doing playful things, sometimes naughty things, sometimes scandalous things.”

Antonucci is a retired lawyer who spent six years as a resident of The World. In 2019, he sold up. His reasoning? “Once you’ve circumnavigated the globe a few times, you’ve seen it. I had seen what I wanted to see, I was ready to do something new.”

Back on dry land, Antonucci started going through the journals he’d kept during his years on board and decided the “country club meets sorority house” vibe was the perfect inspiration for fiction.

Antonucci’s since written three novels set on a fictional ship, the most recent of which, “Tides of Betrayal,” promises “secrets, sins, and scandals” on the high seas.

An exclusive invite

Peter Antonucci says he's owned four apartments on The World over the past few years.

Peter Antonucci says he’s owned four apartments on The World over the past few years. Peter Antonucci

Antonucci and his wife heard about The World via an article in the Wall Street Journal, in around 2012. The 12-deck ship launched in 2002 and spans 644 feet.

When he first heard about this floating city, Antonucci was 52 and enjoying the perks of early retirement. He was intrigued by the concept and his wife was also excited to learn more.

Those interested are able to book a trial journey on The World as a “prospective resident.” So before long, Antonucci and his wife were boarding in Belize and sailing through the Panama Canal on their taster voyage.

“When I first got on, I thought it was ridiculously expensive. I couldn’t believe the apartments cost so much. I couldn’t believe the maintenance costs were so much and couldn’t imagine why anybody would do this,” says Antonucci. “But the second day, I was saying, ‘How many apartments do you have available and when can I sign up?’”

Antonucci says he was seduced by every aspect of The World – from the crew, which he calls “the greatest asset of the ship” thanks to their ability to anticipate residents’ every need, to the plethora of exclusive experiences on board the ship and on land, and the tightly planned itinerary.

“It was like an orchestra with a lot of different parts. Each one was great. But together, it was a symphony,” says Antonucci.

Plus, all the current residents were very welcoming. Antonucci didn’t discover until later that they’d all been briefed in advance on who he was, and he says they’d been encouraged to make him feel at home.

“When they bring prospective residents on, there’s an email that goes to all the residents,” says Antonucci. “There’s a paragraph or two or three or more about the prospective resident’s background, and inquiring whether you have anything in common with them. And [you are encouraged] if you see them to offer to buy them a drink, offer them dinner, play a round of tennis with them, do something.

“Of course, I didn’t know that was going on – I just thought it was coincidental that all these people came up and said nice things to me. But I got to know a few people, and felt good.”

If current residents like a prospective resident, says Antonucci, they can be their proposer.

“Many people come aboard already knowing people. But others took the ‘prospective resident cruise’ and met people there who ended up sponsoring them,” he explains.

Following the successful taster sail, Antonucci and his wife signed a contract to purchase a condo on The World. They closed four months later, in early 2014. Antonucci says they’d have done it all sooner, but there were a few things to tie up on land.

“I had kids in New York and I have houses and things like that – you can’t just pick up everything and run off to sea,” says Antonucci.

Antonucci’s children were in their early 20s during his stint as a World resident, but they came and visited their parents on board from time to time.

05 tik tok cruise

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Million-dollar purchase

Every apartment on The World is slightly different, “some are going to be a little bigger than others, some could be a little smaller,” says Antonucci.

Antonucci can’t recall the exact figures involved, but he believes he bought his first apartment on board for around $1.6 million. 

Unlike on an ordinary cruise ship, residents are able to make renovations and decorate according to personal tastes. That means “some are decorated with modern furniture and really cool appliances, some haven’t been touched in 20 years,” according to Antonucci.

And renovating an apartment on board a ship isn’t super straight forward – there’s no “running to Home Depot.”

There are a lot of wealthy people doing playful things, sometimes naughty things, sometimes scandalous things.

Peter Antonucci, former resident of The World residential ship

“Everything has to be inventoried and shipped months and months in advance in crates – it all has to be approved,” says Antonucci.

All in all, Antonucci owned four separate apartments during his five years on board The World.

“Not all at once,” he explains. “I had two at once. And then I had the other two separately.”

Antonucci upgraded each time to something a little swankier – he says the subsequent apartments he purchased were around $4 million.

During the period when he owned two properties, he’d offer the empty one to friends he invited on board.

Planning by committee

Most residents on board The World use their apartment as a vacation home of sorts – these are people who likely have multiple residences across multiple countries, and might be found private jetting their way across the globe at any given time.

When the ship was voyaging Europe, Antonucci would regularly come and go, enjoying the luxuries of The World every other week or so, and heading home to New York in between.

When the ship was further afield, he’d usually stay on board for longer stretches.

“If it was somewhere far away and it was a whole lot of fun, you know, in the Maldives or the Seychelles, Australia, New Zealand, somewhere like that, I would go and spend a good amount of time there,” says Antonucci. “If the ship was somewhere interesting, I would always prefer to be on the ship.”

The World also times its arrival at certain ports with significant events – like London for Wimbledon, Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.

On-board entertainment is also included in the annual service change and includes lectures from experts and organized activities such as snorkeling, diving, hiking.

Guests aren’t tied to the preorganized events. Antonucci recalls one time when the ship was “down south of the Panama Canal” and he and his friends “got a plane or a boat and went down to the Galapagos and went snorkeling and diving for a few days.”

“You can go off on your own and do that, and then you catch up with the ship, wherever it is,” he explains.

The World’s itinerary is planned two to three years in advance, says Antonucci. That planning is a “very complicated” process, according to Antonucci. He says there’s an itinerary committee, made up of residents that weighs in, focusing on the experiences available at each destination.

Meanwhile Antonucci says the ship’s itinerary director “looks at things like fuel prices, crew changes, where you have the biggest airports, where you have the most accessibility, visa requirements, docking fees.” The ships’ captains also weigh in.

Problems mount for UK PM Rishi Sunak as his party suffers heavy defeat in two parliamentary elections

The losses follow a string of bad news for the British prime minister.

The losses follow a string of bad news for the British prime minister. Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesLondonCNN — 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing difficult questions after his governing Conservative Party lost two seats in parliament on Thursday.

The two by-elections – special elections that take place outside of regular election cycles – were won by the main opposition party Labour in dramatic swings that if replicated on a national level would mean a large Labour majority at a general election.

The losses are particularly painful for Sunak, coming just one day after the UK officially entered recession during an ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Other flagship policies are failing for Sunak. His pledge to reduce irregular migration by stopping small boats crossing into England from France is being undermined as a key government deportation policy is repeatedly held up because of accusations it breaches international law.

The Conservative Party traditionally beats Labour on issues like economics and immigration. The fact Sunak is failing on both of these is worrying his party in a year that they will have to call a general election.

While Conservatives were expecting to lose these by-elections, hopes were bolstered when Labour found itself embroiled in an antisemitism scandal earlier this week. A leaked video in which a Labour by-election candidate claimed Israel allowed the Hamas October 7 attack to take place forced the party to withdraw its endorsement. That election will take place later this month with a different candidate.

London, UK. 24th Nov, 2023. Shoppers take advantage of Black Friday sale on Oxford Street in central London as many stores are offering up to 50% off.

RELATED ARTICLEBritain falls into recession, with worst GDP performance in 2023 in years

Despite the story cutting through with voters, it appeared to make no difference to them at the ballot box, if these results are anything to go by.

Some Conservatives believe that the party leadership is increasingly out-of-touch and wrecking its own electoral prospects. They think Sunak – the richest person to ever hold the office of Prime Minister – is not an appropriate leader at a time when so many people in the UK are struggling financially.

Others think he panders too much to the center-ground of his party and should be focussing on so-called “red meat” Conservative issues like cutting tax and tearing up environmental policies.

Of particular concern to Conservatives is the rise of Reform UK, the new party of Nigel Farage. Farage has spent decades being a constant thorn in the Conservatives’ side.

As leader of both the UK Independence Party and the Brexit Party, he forced the Conservatives into increasingly right-wing positions.

The rise of UKIP under Farage was what ultimately forced former PM David Cameron – now the back in government as foreign secretary – to call a referendum on leaving the EU.

These days Farage is more of a right-wing celebrity and media personality than a true politician. He is honorary president of Reform UK but still has a habit of forcing issues onto the news agenda. He was talking about illegal boat crossings and irregular migration long before the Conservative government picked up the issue. He has a daily TV show and recently appeared on the reality show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.

His profile means he can reach the public in ways most politicians cannot. Reform UK is not a serious contender in terms of taking power, but if it can take enough Conservative votes it would make Labour’s path to government even easier.

The right of Sunak’s party is increasingly vocal and some want him to resign. Tellingly, a number of polls recently have shown Sunak is even less popular than his predecessor Liz Truss, who resigned in disgrace after her controversial economic policies caused the pound to crash and interest rates to rise in a matter of days.

Who exactly would replace Sunak is not clear. Boris Johnson no longer sits in parliament so it would be very hard to bring him back in time for the next election. He is also not as universally popular as his own diehard loyalists claim.

With so little time before Sunak has to face the public, it’s hard to see what he and his party can do to avoid what looks increasingly inevitable – being ousted from office by the voters.

The challenge for Sunak in the immediate term, however, isn’t winning over the public, but simply keeping his party together. But if the Prime Minister cannot even do that, the already narrow path to electoral victory keeps shrinking and the length of that path gets shorter.

Move over, plant-based beef: Hello, beef-infused rice

Growing animal muscle and fat cells inside rice grains.

Growing animal muscle and fat cells inside rice grains. Yonsei UniversityCNN — 

Imagine eating a delicious, nourishing bowl of beef rice.

No, not beef on rice — beef rice.

That’s what a team of South Korean researchers are hoping to plate up with their newly developed hybrid rice, grown in a lab with cow muscle and fat cells inside the rice grains.

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The rice — which is colored pink — could offer a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable source of protein with a much lower carbon footprint than beef, the researchers say.

“Imagine obtaining all the nutrients we need from cell-cultured protein rice,” primary author Sohyeon Park said in a news release on Wednesday, when the study was published in the journal Matter. “Rice already has a high nutrient level, but adding cells from livestock can further boost it.”

Here’s how they do it: They first coat the rice in fish gelatin to help the meat cells latch on better. Then, they insert cow muscle and fat stem cells into the rice grains, which are left to culture in a petri dish.


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Animals have microscopic “biological scaffolds” that help cells grow to form tissue and organs, and rice grains have a porous, organized structure that mimic this scaffolding, as well as molecules that further nourish these cells, the study said.

The meat cells then grow on the surface of the rice grain and inside the grain itself. After about 9 to 11 days, you get the final product — which the study describes as “reminiscent of microbeef sushi and has a different texture, nutritional profile, and flavor than traditional rice grains.”

The beef rice is firmer and more brittle than the typically sticky, soft texture of regular rice — and is higher in protein and fat, the study found. Scientists steamed the rice to analyze it, finding that rice with higher muscle content smelled more like beef and almonds, while rice with higher fat content smelled like cream or coconut oil.

“A novel food ingredient that can overcome humanity’s food crisis has been created,” the study declared, adding that new solutions were critical in overcoming “rising health concerns, infectious disease risks, climate change, and resource scarcity.”

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Park said the team had experimented with different types of food products, but previous models weren’t as successful. For instance, they tried to infuse soybeans with animal meat cells using a similar method, but the cellular scaffolding of the soybean is too big, meaning consumers “can’t feel the meat-like texture.”

Meat alternatives and new food innovations have proliferated over the past few years, from plant-based options like Beyond Meat to lab-grown meat that all aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those generated by livestock.

Livestock systems are responsible for 6.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year. That’s around 12% of all human-caused emissions, UN data shows. Beef production is the most carbon intensive.

But many meat alternative products have struggled to break through to the mainstream market and appeal to consumers; after an extremely successful market debut in 2019, Beyond Meat lost favor with investors and saw its revenue plummet.

TOPSHOT - Firefighters work on the zone of a forest fire in the hills in Quilpue comune, Valparaiso region, Chile on February 3, 2024. The region of Valparaoso and Viña del Mar, in central Chile, woke up on Saturday with a partial curfew to allow the movement of evacuees and the transfer of emergency equipment in the midst of a series of unprecedented fires, authorities reported. (Photo by Javier TORRES / AFP) (Photo by JAVIER TORRES/AFP via Getty Images)

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But the group of Korean researchers say their product may have an advantage; it uses safe, accessible and affordable ingredients, making the final product sustainable to produce and easy on the wallet, according to the study.

Lean beef currently costs about $14.88 per kilogram, and rice costs $2.20 per kilogram, whereas the beef rice, if commercialized, could cost just $2.23. And for every 100 grams of protein produced, the hybrid rice is estimated to release less than 6.27 kilograms (about 13.8 pounds) of carbon dioxide. The same amount of beef produces 49.89 kilograms (about 110 pounds) of carbon dioxide, the study said.

In theory, cows could one day be removed from the equation entirely. The researchers used cells taken from livestock for the study — but if they or other scientists can develop a cell line, meaning cells that can continue dividing and growing over long periods of time, “we can get our cells without livestock breeding,” said Park. “After that, we can create a sustainable food system.”

Neil Ward, an agri-food and climate specialist and professor at the University of East Anglia, who was not involved in the study, said the data looked “very positive,” with potential for helping develop “healthier and more climate-friendly diets in future.”

However, he said, “a critical test is around public appetite for these sorts of lab-developed foods.”

The beef rice won’t land in restaurants quite yet — the team plans to further develop the process so the cells can grow better in the rice grain and produce more nutritional value. They also hope this can improve the texture and taste of the rice, Park said. And as for its bright pink color? That comes from the cell culture medium that the rice is kept in, not from the meat cells, and it can be colored differently if another medium is used.

But Park has high hopes. One day, it might even be rolled out across supermarkets in ready-to-eat kits or meal packages, she said.

“Now I see a world of possibilities for this grain-based hybrid food. It could one day serve as food relief for famine, military ration, or even space food,” she said in the news release.

‘Like a tiny kitten waiting to pounce:’ Inside the cult of cute

A Hello Kitty installation at Somerset House, London. The exhibition features artworks and cultural phenomena such as music, fashion, toys, video games and social media, to examine the world’s fascination with cute culture.

A Hello Kitty installation on show at a new London exhibition examining the world’s fascination with “cute” culture. David Parry/PA Wire/Courtesy Somerset HouseCNN — 

A fluffy, doe-eyed kitten adorned with a rainbow and a unicorn horn may, at first glance, stir up images of childishness or innocence. However, this cute creature is more powerful than it may first appear.

From pets to children to wide-eyed toys, social media filters, emojis and internet memes, “cuteness” is one of the most prominent aesthetics of our digitally saturated age, and a veritable industry in itself. Made popular by its seemingly unthreatening nature, cute’s quest for world domination suggests there is more to the phenomenon than its charming exterior might imply.

How cuteness has taken over our world — and why — is a subject being explored in “Cute,” a new (and the first ever) exhibition devoted to the movement at London’s Somerset House.

"Hello Love" by Hattie Stewart on display at Somerset House, London,

“Hello Love” by Hattie Stewart on display at Somerset House, London, David Parry/PA Wire/Courtesy Somerset House

“By creatively unpacking cute’s many guises, we can not only understand something about ourselves … but also about how we relate to each other and the world around us,” said Somerset House’s director of exhibitions, Cliff Lauson, at the show’s opening.

The origins of cute

It started with cats. When Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, was asked to name one use of the internet he did not anticipate, he answered with a single word — “kittens.”

It’s evocative of how Claire Catterall, senior curator at Somerset House, described cuteness in a speech to open the exhibit: “Like a tiny kitten waiting to pounce, its power and influence has slowly crept up on us.”

Artist Andy Holden's collection of 300 china cats left to him by his grandmother titled "Cat-tharsis" is also on display at Somerset House, London,

Artist Andy Holden’s collection of 300 china cats left to him by his late grandmother titled “Cat-tharsis” is also on display. David Parry/PA Wire/Courtesy Somerset House

Cats, naturally, feature prominently in “Cute,” from the famed and colorful 19th-century drawings of artist Louis Wain — credited with changing the way the Edwardian British public felt about felines by portraying cats as lovable, playful creatures doing things humans did, such as having tea or celebrating Christmas — to artist Andy Holden’s contemporary collection of eclectic feline figurines left to him by his late grandmother (titled “Cat-tharsis”). Both capture the key tenets of cute: being unthreatening and adorable.


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Joshua Dale, author of “Irresistible: How Cuteness Wired our Brains and Conquered the World,” believes there’s an innate psychological reason we’re drawn to these qualities. Seeing something cute, “gets the brain ready for certain kinds of behaviors associated with caregiving,” he told CNN.

There’s a sociological drive, too. The roots of the widespread adoption of cuteness lie in the 19th century, when lowering child mortality and a decreased birth rate meant childhood came to be regarded as a cherished experience and something to be prolonged. The Industrial Revolution and the rise of mass production allowed cuteness to be unleashed on the world — toys, books and illustrations could, increasingly, be made easily and cheaply.

The exhibition examines the enduring appeal of the cute aesthetic amongst adults and asks deeper questions about its allure.

The exhibition — a world first — examines the enduring appeal of the cute aesthetic amongst adults and asks deeper questions about its allure. David Parry/PA Wire/Courtesy Somerset House

Cute began being marketed to American adults in the 1950s, notes Isabelle Galleymore, a poet and consultant for the exhibition. American women, then newly equipped with jobs and disposable income en masse, became part of the consumer class. Products such as “soft toys or blankets with cute designs on them” were designed to “supposedly tap into women’s maternal instincts,” she told CNN.

The ‘kawaii’ effect

Integral to the global phenomena of cute, the exhibition asserts, is “kawaii,” a Japanese word which literally translates as “cuteness.”

According to the exhibition, modern kawaii culture was born in 1914 when artist and illustrator Yumeji Takehisa opened a shop in downtown Tokyo selling accessories and stationery with Western motifs such as mushrooms and castles designed to appeal to schoolgirls.

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For Simon May, a professor of philosophy at King’s College London and author of “The Power of Cute,” kawaii is just part of a story which involves the country of Japan more broadly. “(It’s) the first and so-far only country to present itself to the world as cute,” he said of the nation, a stance he attributed in large part to the “peaceable, unthreatening image,” Japan sought to present to the world after 1945, repudiating militarism and power.

Of course, no exploration of kawaii would be complete without the global phenomenon and “ambassador to cuteness,” as the exhibition affectionately calls her: Hello Kitty.

One of Louis Wain's famous images of cats. The Edwardian artist is credited with increasing the cute appeal of our feline friends by giving them human hobbies and pastimes.

One of Louis Wain’s famous images of cats. The Edwardian artist is credited with increasing the cute appeal of our feline friends by giving them human hobbies and pastimes. Courtesy Bethlem Museum of the Mind/Somerset House

Born of turbulent times after Japan’s first oil crisis in the 1970s, Hello Kitty was created as a character to help sell new products. And sell she did, appearing on everything from sneakers and paper towels to chopsticks, airplanes and panini makers. In 2015, analysts estimated Hello Kitty accounted for roughly 75% of parent company Sanrio’s $142 million annual operating profit, and that it brought in most of the company’s yearly $600 million in revenue.

So carefully protected are her now-classic features that, the exhibition notes, a rare version of the mouthless doll produced with an open mouth was enough to spark controversy amongst fans. However, the Japanese cute phenomenon has not always been as saccharine as it may at first appear. As the 20th century progressed and cute’s power grew, the movement also began to explore darker, more critical themes. Take the explosion of rebellious streetstyle in Tokyo — so-called “Harajuku style” — often seen as a pushback against Japan’s strict societal norms. “(There is) something really empowering about the kawaii-inspired fashions of Japan” said Galleymore, as they’re not just sweet but often contain combinations of “cute and grotesque imagery.”

An escape from life’s realities

Cute is also touted as a response to life’s complexities. The exhibition installation “Sugar-coated pill,” which features cuddly toys produced by banks and pharmaceutical companies, explores how cuteness is sometimes deployed to soften the unpalatable — financial challenges, for example, or illness.

A "fancy notebook" from the 1960s by pioneering female illustrator Setsuko Tamura who encapsulated the style of kawaii.

A “fancy notebook” from the 1960s by pioneering female illustrator Setsuko Tamura who encapsulated the style of kawaii. Courtesy Yayoi Museum/Somerset House

Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s 2021 mixed media piece “!step on no petS Step on no pets!,” meanwhile, depicts distorted unicorns dancing among flames in an unsettling yet innocent fairytale world. Embracing this duality is part of what makes the exhibition unique, said Maclean, adding: “It offers the chance to explore the complexity and ambiguity embedded within the seemingly simple and charming.”

Cute’s power to give the workaday some escapist glitz can also be seen on an individual level every day via phone filters that turn us into squishy avatars, glossing over our adult features, enlarging our eyes, pinking our cheeks and changing our online identities at the touch of a button.

While cute might, in many ways, still be seen as trivial, what is fascinating about it is how it maintains such a hold on our modern world. “It’s fascinating as a window into the zeitgeist,” May told CNN, “For what it tells us about who we are.”

AI ‘resurrects’ long dead dictator in murky new era of deepfake electioneering

An AI-generated deepfake of the late dictator Suharto has sparked debate about using AI technology for political gain.

An AI-generated deepfake of the late dictator Suharto has sparked debate about using AI technology for political gain. Erwin Aksa/XCNN — 

A once-feared army general, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for more than three decades, has a message for voters ahead of upcoming elections – from beyond the grave.

“I am Suharto, the second president of Indonesia,” the former general says in a three-minute video that has racked up more than 4.7 million views on X and spread to TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

While mildly convincing at first, it’s clear that the stern-looking man in the video isn’t the former Indonesian president. The real Suharto, dubbed the “Smiling General” because he was always seen smiling despite his ruthless leadership style, died in 2008 at age 86.

The video was an AI-generated deepfake, created using tools that cloned Suharto’s face and voice. “The video was made to remind us how important our votes are in the upcoming election,” said Erwin Aksa, deputy chairman of Golkar – one of Indonesia’s largest and oldest political parties. He first shared the video on X ahead of February 14 elections.

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The party is one of 18 competing in this year’s race, which will see more than 200 million voters head to the polls. Golkar is not fielding its own presidential candidate but has thrown its support behind frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, a former army general under Suharto’s military-backed regime – and also his former son-in-law.

By bringing a long dead leader back to life just weeks before the vote, Golkar’s intentions were clear: to encourage voters to throw their weight behind the party synonymous with Suharto.

“As a member of Golkar, I am very proud of Suharto because he successfully developed Indonesia,” Aksa wrote on X. “He brought a lot of success. We must respect it and remember his services – Golkar was there.”

But online critics decried the act of using a dead man’s face and voice, especially for political propaganda. “This is the state of our country today – bringing dead dictators back to life to fool and scare us into votes,” wrote one Indonesian on X.

“Since when did it become ethical to create deepfakes out of dead people? It feels so morally wrong,” said another.

Voting in the era of deepfakes

The online world plays a huge role in Indonesian politics. In a country with one of the world’s highest internet usage rates, almost all political parties and politicians maintain strong presences on social media to amass followers and clout.


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“Deepfakes can greatly influence an election – the way campaigning is done, as well as the results,” said Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific campaign manager at Access Now, a US digital rights non-profit.

“The danger lies in how fast it spreads. A deepfake can easily reach millions in seconds, swaying and manipulating (millions of) voters.”

In the lead-up to this year’s vote, observers told CNN that many major parties had turned to AI and used a variety of different deepfakes for political gain.

The Golkar-produced Suharto video was just one of dozens featured in official party campaigns, they said.

Supporters of presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo at a rally in Jakarta on February 3, 2024.

Supporters of presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo at a rally in Jakarta on February 3, 2024. Darryl Ramadhan/NurPhoto/AP

Presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto greets the crowds at a rally at the Baharuddin Siregar stadium in Lubuk Pakam, North Sumatra on February 7, 2024.

Presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto greets the crowds at a rally at the Baharuddin Siregar stadium in Lubuk Pakam, North Sumatra on February 7, 2024. Muhammad Zulfan Dalimunthe/AFP/Getty Images

Following public criticism, the campaign team of three-time presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, also Indonesia’s current defense minister, admitted to using AI software to give their chief a cuddly animated makeover on TikTok to appeal to young voters. Indonesians aged 40 and younger – who number around 114 million voters – make up the majority of votes.

In another video that attracted intense criticism, AI-generated children were used by the party in a TV commercial to skirt rules banning children from appearing in political campaigns.

“The technology used is so advanced … We can understand if some people mistook (the children) as real characters,” Budisatrio Djiwandono, Prabowo’s nephew and spokesperson for his nationalist right-wing Gerindra Party, said in a statement after the advertisement was called out by watchdog groups.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo presents his national statement during day two of COP26 at SECC on November 1, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

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The party of former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo enlisted an interactive AI chatbot to engage with potential voters. AI photos made by supporters, have also been used by Ganjar’s party in his campaign. CNN has reached out to representatives from Ganjar’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) for comment.

The third presidential candidate, former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, whose campaign makes use of an OpenAI-powered chatbot that answers questions about his policies on WhatsApp, has cautioned against the use of AI in the election after he became the victim of an audio deepfake in January. A doctored conversation of Anies, purportedly being chastised by a political backer, made rounds online.

“We have to be critical because now there is AI technology which can generate audio or visuals that can appear real,” Anies told a campaign rally later that month.

Indonesia’s Communications Ministry issued advisories following several viral AI videos, warning tech companies and voters to be cautious of deepfakes. But efforts have not been enough, watchdog groups told CNN.

TAPP (Tim Advokasi Peduli Pemilu), a Jakarta-based nonprofit, said that videos like the Suharto deepfake showed AI’s potential for voter manipulation.

“The government is still not aware of the dangers of deepfakes,” said spokesperson Gugum Ridho Putra.

“We know what AI is capable of and this is only the beginning,” he adds. “We are concerned about voters being manipulated, especially so close to the election.”

A souvenir T-shirt bearing Suharto's image with a message in Javanese that reads: "Wasn't it better during my era?"

A souvenir T-shirt bearing Suharto’s image with a message in Javanese that reads: “Wasn’t it better during my era?” Rahmat Pribadi/AFP/Getty Images/File

The ‘ghost’ of Suharto

Suharto’s 32-year dictatorship is considered by international rights organizations to be one of the most corrupt and brutal periods in Indonesia’s history.

Thousands were jailed or killed during his rule as he cracked down on critics and political opponents, and enforced his regime’s rule over East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and the Maluku islands.

Discussion of his rule remains largely taboo in Indonesia and opinions about his legacy are mixed.

But in places like Kemusuk, a village near Yogyakarta where he was born, his image is everywhere – from museum memorabilia celebrating his life to the souvenir T-shirts with his smiling face. Now he has found renewed fame online.

“The video’s virality speaks to his legacy and shows how relevant he is in Indonesia today,” said Soe Tjen Marching, an Indonesian author-composer and academic at SOAS University of London. “He has been dead for many years but still has many supporters,” she added. “His ghost still lingers.”

But for those like retired officer Anton Pratama, 55, who grew up during the Suharto years, the dictator’s reappearance “was disarming.”

“It is not so much about seeing him again, or believing he is still alive,” Anton told CNN, adding that his son had shown him the video. “The fear is that Suharto, and his ideology, are becoming popular in the country again.”

Hang a picture of Jason Kelce shirtless in The Louvre? This man thinks so

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce celebrating his brother's touchdown for the Kansas City Chiefs on January 21.

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce celebrating his brother’s touchdown for the Kansas City Chiefs on January 21. Kathryn Riley/Getty ImagesCNN — 

At a game, fans often see something happen – was it that dunk or that crazy tackle? – that looks strangely familiar. It may look like one they have seen earlier in the season, or was it something they may have seen on their last trip to the museum?

Social media account ArtButMakeItSports connects the dots. The account’s creator, LJ Rader, has spent the last five years matching some of sports’ most iconic moments with artwork masterpieces.

The results show that the resemblance between art and sports is often uncanny.

For Rader, this just started as a hobby, sharing posts with a small following of mostly friends. He says: “I tend to see things through a sports lens, and I guess art is no different for me. I just love sports in general… and for a long time, I’ve had an appreciation of art.”

Rader would visit museums in New York, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and take photos of anything that grabbed his attention. Over the years, he has collected at least 8,500 snaps of artwork.

“I’ve banked this information in my head. I’ve pretty much memorized that folder on my phone… [if] some moment is going viral or the photo is going viral, then I’ll take that and work to find the art,” he explains.

‘Capturing something AI can never do’

Indiana's Kel'el Ware dunks on Iowa's Owen Freeman in an NCAA basketball game on January 30 in Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana’s Kel’el Ware dunks on Iowa’s Owen Freeman in an NCAA basketball game on January 30 in Bloomington, Indiana. Darron Cummings/AP

Behind the posts, there isn’t an automated computer mind at work either. Instead, Rader just gets to work with the weekend sports and his phone’s gallery folder, full of artwork.

He says: “Using AI to do the matchups, I don’t even know why I would ever even do that. It kind of takes the fun out of it and takes away the reason why I have the account. It sort of extracts out the soul of what I do.

“When I get accused of using AI, it’s partly flattering. Part of it is kind of scary, this destruction of what is truth that we’re dealing with as a society.”

And despite the leaps and bounds made by AI in recent years, it still has a long way to go when capturing emotion. Rader says: “I try to also hit on sometimes a more layered approach and humorous approach, capturing hopefully something AI can never do.”

The emotion found in the sporting moment and the artwork remains key. Rader continues: “You’re trying to capture some of, potentially, the same movement but also the same emotion … It can go deeper than just, ‘This image looks like this other image.’ It has to feel like that other image.”

And these ideas boil down to what makes sports photography a piece of art too. “I see sports photography as an artistic expression. [Sports photographers] are artists in their own right,” says Rader.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stands back to pass as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons is held back by Miami's offensive line on Christmas Eve 2023.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stands back to pass as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons is held back by Miami’s offensive line on Christmas Eve 2023. Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Are sport and art all that different?

Since starting ArtButMakeItSports, Rader says the audience has been small for the most part. “For a long time, I was just posting into the abyss of a handful of my friends, my mom’s friends,” he recalls.

Growth was slow but steady, until the account gained more attention during the 2022 NFL playoffs. And interest in Rader’s work skyrocketed this year after Jason Kelce’s bare-chested appearance at the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-24 win against the Buffalo Bills in January. Over the last month, the account has grown by roughly 25%.

Rader says: “The NFL tagged me in that photo and they said, ‘What do you think?’ which is pretty wild. That blew up and just kept the momentum going.” The Kelce brothers themselves also saw The Feast of Bacchus (1654) by Philips Koninck comparison and featured it on their podcast.

And now, Rader can rely on his following to do some of the legwork too. He says that the community of followers send him a constant flow of suggestions: sometimes good, sometimes bad. Conveniently, it means he can take his eye off sports when he needs to.

Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp goes down with an injury during the Barclays Women's Super League match against Liverpool FC on January 21.

Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp goes down with an injury during the Barclays Women’s Super League match against Liverpool FC on January 21. Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Going forward, Rader wants to make sure he is covering all his bases when it comes to sport. “I try to have a pretty nice balance across the board of men’s and women’s sports and some of the stuff I don’t know anything about like cricket.”

The creator also wants to bring artwork and sport closer together. He says: “The account shows they’re not so different, and maybe we need to reexamine what we think somebody is capable of. Somebody can like art and sports, it’s not that big of a stretch.

“I get a lot of messages saying, ‘This brings me closer to my spouse because I like art and they like sport,’ or, ‘I’ve learned a lot about art, I’ve been going to more museums.’”

Of course, Rader has his predictions for this month’s Super Bowl too. “Honestly, I’m just rooting for good content and an interesting halftime show. But I’ll say Chiefs 27, 49ers 24. I just hope it’s a chaotic and interesting game,” he says.

After all, wouldn’t we all love to see a roaring Jason Kelce matched with a renaissance painting on our social media feeds again?