Maus and the repressive power of Jewish trauma

There was a great three-panel comic that the artist Art Spiegelman did for The Virginia Quarterly Review a while back that neatly encapsulates the dubious if nearly universal centrality of the Holocaust in American Jewish life. In the strip, the artist, author of Maus, the path-breaking Jews-as-mice-Nazis-as-cats Holocaust manga, hands a little treasure chest to his son, Dash — a birthday present. When his son opens the box, a horrible fire-breathing dragon wearing an Auschwitz prisoner’s striped cap, with a little extra Hitler head for good measure, breathes fire on the child and burns him. Nice gift, dad. ...  Continue reading

Who will win the gentrification wars?

Gentrification. Are you pro or anti? Perhaps, if you’re reading this article in a small town with a dilapidated high street, this question may be far from your mind. But if you’re inside the M25, it will loom larger, and will perhaps seem as daft as asking “poverty: are you for or against?”

The release of 2021 census numbers helps to explain why, for millennials in our core cities, the “G” word has become so politically charged. One recent data-blog showed the steeply rising number of residents in professional jobs across London and Manchester. The changes will have been plain to see if you have lived in these places over the past decade, with estate agents popping up on formerly run-down high streets and artisan bakeries appearing in railway arches. ...  Continue reading

In defence of deepfakes

Philosophers of knowledge sometimes invoke a thought experiment involving “Fake Barn Country”, an imaginary land which for some reason is scattered with lots of convincing barn facades but very few real barns. Somewhat unusually, a man in Fake Barn Country stands in front of a real barn. Does he know there is a barn in front of him? Academic opinions divide at this point, but it at least seems clear that the man himself is likely to be sceptical, assuming he also knows what country he is in.

Today, fake barns are replaced with fake videos and images. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is a social media cliché but may soon become an outdated one. The use of “deepfakes” is growing — and the opportunities they bring for epistemic chaos are legion. Entrepreneurial types have already used them to put celebrities in porn, impersonate a CEO’s voice to make fraudulent money transfers, and hack bank facial recognition security software. We are all living in Fake Barn Country now. ...  Continue reading

Is George Santos a Machiavellian prince?

After the latest batch of revelations about his hidden history and penchant for patent falsehoods, Americans are struggling to make sense of New York Representative George Santos. Even before he was able to take office in January, several newspapers began to reveal that Santos’s professional and political CV was substantially invented. The lies ranged from the conveniently fictional to the comically fraudulent. But how could such a candidate have risen so far, so fast? Turning to a comparable work of fiction (one no less fanciful and entertaining than Santos’s resumé) may hold some answers. ...  Continue reading

The dignity of dying at home

My mother liked to tell me stories of medicine at home: how I was born on her bed, and how her own mother had died in hers. Both tales involved family doctors of the old-fashioned sort, with black bags and tickly stethoscopes. Both were easy operations. I emerged in a couple of hours, while my grandmother, who had brain cancer, was given “enough morphine to kill a horse” and floated off in her sleep. Both stories ended in tea: my parents sipping it from mugs on the birthing bed, my mother making some for the doctor after leaving the deathbed, cutting him a slice of parkin as he leaned against the Aga and said the thing about the horse. ...  Continue reading

Where are the Young England radicals?

Have things ever been so grim? Given the depressing reality of contemporary Britain — with the endless stories of sleaze and decay, decline and division — it is easy to draw that conclusion. Surely the NHS has never been this dire, the union this fragile or the country’s economic prospects this bleak? Surely we’ve never had a government, or a parliament, quite so devoid of ideas and ambition? For those, like me, who find themselves asking these questions more regularly than ever, there is a salve of sorts available: modern British history. If you think you’re living through the worst of times today, think again — it’s usually like this. ...  Continue reading

How Bill Clinton created post-truth America

While Bill Clinton was campaigning to be President in 1992, the singer Gennifer Flowers gave several interviews in which she named him as her long-term lover. Clinton denied it, of course. It was one of the many lies that he told about his relationships with women. But what happened next revealed something of the ruthless character of the man. Fighting to keep ahead in the polls, and wanting to present himself as tough on crime, Clinton travelled down from New Hampshire to his home state of Arkansas to personally supervise the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.

Rector was a black prison inmate who had shot a man in a restaurant over a $3 cover charge and then murdered the policeman who came to negotiate his surrender. Rector then tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. He survived but was effectively lobotomised. When he was executed, he had no idea why he was tied to a gurney with a lethal needle in his arm — no idea as to his crimes, still less that this was an electoral stunt. It took 20 minutes for them to find a vein to administer the fatal injection. The Prison Chaplain, no bleeding-heart liberal, resigned in disgust. Clinton didn’t need to be there but he knew was good politics. The Democrats had to show they were to be trusted on law and order. And Clinton needed a distraction from the Flowers story. ...  Continue reading

Mexico’s cartel corruption on trial

It is no big secret that Mexican police officers moonlight for drug traffickers. As far back as 2010, a state commander nicknamed “El Tyson” admitted in a confession video on national television that he was not only a high-ranking cartel member, but that he made young narco recruits cut up bodies to lose their fear of blood. El Tyson was arrested by the federal police when it was controlled by Genaro García Luna, a square-jawed intelligence agent who was a key architect of the country’s war on cartels.

In a twist of fate, however, García Luna is now himself on trial in New York, accused of pocketing millions of dollars from those same kingpins after helping them traffic tons of cocaine to America. The trial, which began on 17 January in a federal court in Brooklyn and is expected to last eight weeks, breaks new ground in the drug war. Since Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs in 1971, the US has taken down a vast array of Mexican traffickers — most famously Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was convicted in the same Brooklyn courthouse in 2019. But never before has such a high-ranking Mexican official faced a US jury on drug charges. ...  Continue reading

The beauty of Botox

One of my closest friends is allergic to Botox, which was exactly as terrible a discovery as you might expect. It started while she was still at the doctor’s office, with a burning sensation at the injection site. (“That’s just your imagination,” the dermatologist said.) That sensation promptly turned into a bizarre, patchy rash. (The dermatologist: “I’ve never seen that before.”) Eventually, it gave way to spasms, which though infrequent were intense enough that her husband and kids could see them as they happened, her facial muscles jumping and writhing under her skin like something out of a horror film. ...  Continue reading

Does feminism have mummy issues?

Freud didn’t really understand women. This is not an original point: it was first made by Freud himself. According to his biographer Ernest Jones, Freud admitted: “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’”

Nonetheless, he had a go at making sense of us — and especially how we mature. Male children are, he thought, animated by an infantile desire to possess their mother and destroy their father: the Oedipus complex. But things are different for girls, who must first get over their resentment at their mother for having birthed them without a penis. Only having done this, Freud thought, would women come to identify with their mothers and embrace female gender roles. Though Freud never used the term, Jung dubbed it the “Electra complex”, and it stuck. ...  Continue reading

How Big Pharma feeds off the NHS

I used to think, perhaps naively, that even the current Conservative government valued the NHS’s “national treasure” status too much to let it go the way of the debt-fuelled US healthcare system. Now, I’m not so sure: NHS privatisation, by the backdoor, is well under way.

While other countries continue to grow health spending as a share of GDP, in the UK it continues to decline, along with wages (nurses’ pay is now 12% lower in real terms than before the 2010 election). And in the absence of proper funding, other sources of money start to swoop in. With a budget allocation of £168.2 billion for 2022-23, the NHS is the UK government’s biggest financial burden, but also the biggest cash cow for vulture capitalists. The next biggest spenders — education (£77.1 billion) and defence (£32.1 billion) — not only have smaller tills to dip into, but also offer far less opportunity for private investment. ...  Continue reading

Iran’s ideological war on Britain

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is an idiosyncratic creation of Iran’s revolutionary class that now sits at the centre of the modern Iranian state. In 1979, the Islamic constitution established the group as an “ideological army” — in deliberate contrast to the country’s regular armed forces, the Artesh. Its purpose was and is clear: to wage “an ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world”.

Britain is now one of its many targets. The IRGC has sponsored terror, kidnap and seemingly endless sordid criminal acts since its founding. Its targets have always been global and since 2015, there has been a surge in IRGC activity in the UK and Europe. In 2022, MI5 acknowledged a real threat from Iran’s “aggressive intelligence services” to kidnap or kill UK-based people. ...  Continue reading