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 »

Anti-Semitism in America

With what just happened in Pittsburgh it is easy to forget what things were like in the 1930s in America. I remember because I was growing up then. We used to listen to Father Coughlin on the radio. He said things like this: More »

Sócrates and Brazilian Democracy

In November 1982, Brazil held its first direct multiparty elections since the 1964 coup. A month before the vote, the captain of the national football team wrote a four-page spread in Placar, the country’s bestselling football magazine, in which he articulated his proposals for jobs, housing, health, education and food security. These are issues that ordinary people worry about, Sócrates said, and if addressed properly will ensure a better life for all. ‘But we will only achieve this when everyone has full and total freedom to speak, to learn, to participate, to choose and above all to protest,’ he wrote. ‘That’s what living with dignity is all about.’ More »

Under the Black Sea

The world’s oldest known intact shipwreck has been found resting on its side at the bottom of the Black Sea by an international team of maritime archaeologists. The 23-metre Greek ship, which sank 2400 years ago, is one of dozens of wrecks found by the group over the past three years. More »

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