Forty Days In My Father’s House

Day 1: I taste year-still air. Although this is not my home, everything is exactly as it was.

Day 2: Secrets fell out of a book this morning. Photos of my father, young. He grins by a statue in some old courtyard, hunches over in an armchair peering at papers. There were love letters dated last year to a woman I didn’t know. For the rest of the day I traced clues, dates on receipts, his last path around the apartment. I wore his hat and his shoes. More »

Trump Cleaners Inc.

My father used to be a dry cleaner. In 1964, after selling a small store in Nassau County, Long Island, he hoped to open something new. Working with a broker, he found an excellent location in a shopping centre in an apartment complex that was going up in Brooklyn, right off Neptune Avenue, a few blocks from Coney Island. In those years Coney Island was being superseded by more daring, more modern theme parks, the beach was unclean and the perception that New York had become unsafe was amplified in the outer boroughs. The new middle-income construction, subsidised by the State of New York, promised to anchor the neighbourhood.

The seven-building complex was called Trump Village. More »

An Exercise in Forgetting

Amid the poppies, the parades, the TV programmes on military themes, the commemorative art works springing up in towns and villages across the country, Theresa May said last week that she would be laying a wreath at the graves of British soldiers in France on the centenary of the Armistice to commemorate ‘every member of the Armed Forces who gave their lives to protect what we hold so dear’. More »

Sporting Facts

The World Chess Championship begins today at the former Cochrane Theatre in Holborn. The reigning champion, Magnus Carlsen, faces the world number two, Fabiano Caruana, for the title and €1 million in prize money. More »

Will anyone bet on me?

The search to find the new poet laureate for when Carol Ann Duffy stands down next year is hotting up. In the past some poets have been reluctant to assume the role. Everything from mock modesty to anti-monarchic feeling has been used as a reason to say no. More »

Death Threats in Durban

The last time I was in South Africa, in 2015, I met with members of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), an organisation of informally housed people, based mainly in Durban and the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal region. The group’s name means ‘Shack Dwellers’. I was added to their mailing list.

In the last few months the tone of AbM’s updates has become increasingly urgent, as the violence of the state’s response to the movement seems to have intensified. More »

In Prague

Czechoslovakia would have been a hundred years old last Sunday, and Prague spent the weekend celebrating. I’ve been to better birthday parties. The gloomy weather didn’t help – it didn’t just rain on the parades, it poured – and the centennial narratives, never simple, were complicated further by the fact they were commemorating a state that dissolved itself in 1993. More »

Fool the Discriminator

Last week Christie’s sold at auction a portrait ‘created by an artificial intelligence’ for $432,500. The canvas from the art collective Obvious was described as a portrait of the fictional ‘Edmond Belamy’, and signed with an equation:

It expresses the concept underlying the class of machine-learning algorithms known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), which were used to produce the portrait. More »

In Squirrel Hill

Walking through downtown Squirrel Hill last Friday, I noticed, not for the first time, how homely it all seemed: the shabby student housing above the storefronts, the faded clapboard of Jerry’s Records, the brushes in the shoe repair window that look as if they were dropped there in 1970, the sidewalk in front of the Greek deli that is scrubbed daily but never gets clean.

On Monday night, at a barricade half a block from Tree of Life Synagogue, I overheard University of Pittsburgh students telling a reporter from Le Monde that the neighbourhood is ‘rich’. ‘A rich neighbourhood?’ he repeated, scribbling into a notebook wet with rain. The houses around the synagogue are brick, with generous front porches, and guarded by maples, rhododendrons, hemlocks. They have a classic Pittsburgh beauty. When I heard the word ‘rich’, I felt the cityscape close in. A story would go to press that people around the world would read in a few hours’ time. Glued to the details of a senseless massacre, would they find some kind of sense in a description of ‘rich’ Jews?

I walked to Tree of Life, expecting the building to look changed. Perhaps, I thought, if I saw the parking lot and the glassed-in lobby where my son used to sit at a plastic folding table with the part-time Hebrew teacher and three other students, eating doughnut holes after school and learning the aleph-bet, I would be able to grasp what had happened. But I couldn’t. The synagogue just looked like a building with a story about it. Yellow tape. Police lights. More »

The Masque of Weaponry

‘Private armament firms, no matter how reputable and incorrupt, depend for their prosperity on the perpetual exasperation of international fears and suspicions … they thrive upon war scares, and they must have occasional wars.’ So concluded The Secret International, an influential pamphlet published in the early 1930s by the Union of Democratic Control. The international arms trade is no less a force for ‘exasperation’ now than it was then, and in Britain, as in most countries with a remunerative arms sector, it has become an adjunct of government. Britain’s defence industry used to put out its wares for international consumption every year, either in Portsmouth or Aldershot, as a government-to-government trade exhibition, under the auspices of the Royal Navy or the British Army. In the 1990s the arms show was outsourced: Defence and Security Equipment International is now run by Clarion Events, ‘a successful, dynamic and creative business’ in Surrey. And business is booming. More »

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    • Timothy Rogers on An Exercise in Forgetting: Using WWI as an exemplary case, it would be easy to demonstrate that “most soldiers” do not willingly sacrifice themselves on the altar of nation,...
    • steve kay on An Exercise in Forgetting: Sadly this year, friends and I experienced more hostility to white poppies than ever before. Usually merely mutterings, and Quakers got away with by a...
    • Joe Morison on An Exercise in Forgetting: The morality of the First World War is as hard to pin down its causes. Just because it was a moral catastrophe that should have been avoided doesn’t...
    • ejh on Sporting Facts: Remarkably, it transpires that the seventy-quid plus that AGON are demanding of spectators in Holborn doesn't even give the purchaser more than thirty...
    • kathleen conway on In Squirrel Hill: Poignant article, beautifully written. Thank you. On this election day, we can hope for a change in our nation. Maybe this will be the day that will...

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