Author: Ben Sixsmith

Deepfakes and the Threat to Privacy and Truth

You just crossed into the twilight zone. “Photographs furnish evidence,” wrote Susan Sontag in On Photography. “A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened.” Sontag went on to write of how photographs can misrepresent situations. But do they even have to show real objects? When you open the website “This Person Does Not Exist” you are met with the face of a man or woman. He or she looks normal—like the average person you would brush past on the way to work—but he or she does not exist. The website uses generative adversarial networks, which produce original data from training sets. Through analyzing vast numbers of real faces the website can generate new ones. True, there are some glitches. The first man I saw—a cheerful, bald, middle-aged man who could have been a television evangelist or a salesman at a training seminar—had an inexplicable hole beneath his ear, which, once seen, gave him an unnerving reptilian appearance. More often than not, though, the faces are indistinguishable from the real thing. You just …

The Right Needs To Grow Up On Environmentalism

Mentioning the environment to a conservative is liable to elicit a similar response that mentioning political correctness would from a left-winger: a slight raising of the eyebrows, a slight exhalation of breath and, perhaps, a folding of the arms or tapping of the feet. It smells—it positively stinks—of out-group affiliation. The environment? That’s what those dreadful latté sipping, lentil eating, flip-flop wearing leftists talk about. Are you sure you’re in the right place? It did not have to be this way. Up until the later decades of the twentieth century, attitudes towards the environment did not fall along tribal lines. Conservationists, like President Theodore Roosevelt, were often conservatives. As environmental causes, like the campaigns against DDT and air pollution, gathered storm in the 1970s, however, conservative were dismayed by the apparent tendencies towards big government and internationalism in addressing them. A 1970 letter to William F. Buckley from his National Review colleague James Burnham, unearthed by the assiduous researcher Joshua Tait, also expresses deep concerns regarding threats to free enterprise and a “snobbish elitism…with the …

In Defense of Male Stoicism

I dealt with the most stereotypically feminine of mental illnesses in the most stereotypically masculine way. After acknowledging that I was anorexic, and deciding that I had no wish to be, I put my head down and tried to recover with the minimum of fuss. I told almost nobody about my condition, and almost never discussed it with the people I had told. I had two sessions with a therapist—almost missing the first after getting myself lost and terrifying pedestrians by running up to them, wild-eyed, to ask for directions to the mental health center—and then abandoned them out of embarrassment and reticence. I did not want to talk, and I did not cry, and I had no wish to hold anyone’s hand or be hugged. As a means of recovery, I would not recommend this. I was fortunate enough to have a family who supported me as I recovered, and someone less privileged would need additional support. Had I been more open to professional help, meanwhile, I might have made a quicker and more comprehensive recovery, …

‘Anti-Imperialism’ and Apologetics for Murder

A consistent feature of the British socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been support for Islamists and Third World dictators. Corbyn himself has dined with his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, and saluted the Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. Andrew Murray, one of his consultants, is a sympathiser with the Juche regime in North Korea. Yasmine Dar, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, is an admirer of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chris Williamson MP, Corbyn’s longtime supporter and friend, is a big fan of the Castroite regime in Cuba. And Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Director of Strategy and Communications, was formerly a Guardian columnist, of whom the leftist commentator Brian Whitaker once wrote: [Milne] views international politics almost entirely through an anti-imperialist lens. That, in turn, leads to a sympathetic view of those dictatorial regimes which characterise themselves as anti-imperialist. It’s the same with Islamist movements where they oppose Western-backed regimes… To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary to return to the West after World War Two. First World Failure, and Third World Hope By the end of …

Britain’s Grooming Gang Crisis

The scale of the street grooming crisis in the UK almost defies belief. Hundreds of girls and young women were raped in the city of Rotherham, and hundreds by similar exploitation rings in Rochdale, Peterborough, Newcastle, Oxford, and Bristol. Now, up to a thousand girls are thought to have been drugged, raped, and beaten in Telford between the 1980s and the 2010s. This is, of course, a highly emotive subject. How could it not be? Yet if the phenomenon is to be understood it is important to evaluate the data objectively. Otherwise we have a lot of heat and little light. Responses to the crisis are contentious because most of the perpetrators are British Asians; specifically British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Child abuse is not uniquely or largely a problem of particular demographics but grooming gangs – that is, multiple offenders exploiting women they have met, manipulated, and abused outside their homes – are 84 percent Asian, and this does not mean Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Indonesian (other perpetrators have been Somali, Romani, Kosovan, Kurdish, and …

In Memory of the Spanish Flu

A hundred years ago the First World War was lurching bloodily towards its squalid end. The Germans were planning their Spring Offensive: a desperate attempt to beat the Allies before the Americans could intervene. Its failure led grindingly to their defeat. An Allied counteroffensive smashed the Hindenberg Line, General Ludendorff endured something close to a breakdown and the Germans slowly, sullenly began to surrender. I would argue that the First World War was the most important episode of the 20th Century. The Tsar’s bad joke of a campaign fuelled the rise of communism. Germans, humiliated and impoverished at Versailles, were left to stew in the resentment that inspired Nazism. The British, who had lost almost three quarters of a million men in a war many had expected to be won in months, had been devastated militarily and psychologically. The French had lost a million men. Europe was not the same. Even as the war began to end, however, and as people might have been excused for breathing sighs of relief, the world was stumbling into …

Why Are Non-Believers Turning to Their Bibles?

Even in the middle of the atheism boom, Richard Dawkins described himself as a “secular Christian”. To the author of The God Delusion this meant an appreciation of “aesthetic elements” such as church bells. Christopher Hitchens felt the same. At the end of one interview with the firebrand antitheist the interviewer invited him to the pub. “That’d be nice,” he said, “But actually I really want to go to Evensong.” Hitchens, the interviewer reflected, “had some enthusiasm for the words and sounds of the church, which he could easily disassociate from the actual believing part.” Decades before, Philip Larkin had admitted, in “Church Going”, that a church was: A serious house on serious earth… In whose blent air all our compulsions meet Are recognised and robed as destinies. The poet would later describe religion as “that vast moth-eaten musical brocade” but he felt a certain awe inside a church: If only that so many dead lie round. Europe and America, of course, have Christian heritage and there is no excuse for intelligent citizens to lack …

Haruki Murakami, Poet of Loneliness

Do you ever want to take a walk? Not around the neighbourhood. Not around the park. Not around the city. Nothing planned. Nothing orderly. A walk with a beginning but no middle and no end. That is the fate of many characters in the novels of Japan’s Haruki Murakami. It is also his appeal. The reader goes for a walk: starting somewhere familiar and going somewhere strange. There is much one could dislike about Murakami’s books. The prose can be cliche-ridden. The tropes can seem cloying. The characters and plots can seem predictable. While he has been consistently popular, Murakami’s critical reception has been mixed. “Falling out of love with Murakami” was the title of one essay in the Guardian. His popularity, indeed, exposes him to cynicism as his fans can be among the most cultlike in literature: whimsical “Harukists” who love his most formulaic elements and bemoan his annual failure to win the Nobel Prize. One could easily imagine a satire of his books. A single man lives alone, cooking miso soup and listening to the Beatles. He …

Why Can Comedians Be So Irritating?

I am bored by comedians. Everywhere you turn, people are telling jokes on talk shows, panel shows, sketch shows, stand up specials, sitcoms, podcasts and films. Most of them are worthless. There is “biting” comedy that nibbles; “searing” satire that is tepid; “laugh out loud” humour that is met with weary silence. I am being unfair, of course. One could say with at least as much justice that is one is bored by political commentators and if we can have fresh insights, they can have fresh jokes. Still, I wonder why so many comedians are so unfunny. There are Dave Chappelles and Bill Burrs but these are the exceptions. Some ramble about their sex lives like drunk men in boring pubs. Some drop cultural references, mistaking them for punchlines. Some steal jokes from Twitter about Donald Trump’s hairdo. Some, worst of all, forget they are comedians, posing as authorities on religion, politics and science. So, we are treated to Ricky Gervais on God; Amy Schumer on sexism; Russell Brand on everything. The problem is not so much that …

Defending Western History From Political Propaganda

History, Rudge tells us in Alan Bennett’s 2004 play The History Boys, is “one [bleeping] thing after another.” Yet history as a discipline is not solely concerned with facts, or, in other words, with what [bleeping] happened. It also involves interpretation, or, in other words, why things [bleeping] happened, why they [bleeping] mattered and what [bleeping] lessons can be taken for the future. Such interpretations can be controversial. Classical Studies—as Sandra Kotta detailed in these pages—have been subjected to violent fits of politicisation. Donna Zuckerberg (yes, she is Mark’s sister) edits the Classical Studies journal Eidolon. In a recent essay she announced her desire to “model a Classics that is ethical, diverse, intersectional, and especially feminist”. “Classics as a discipline,” she wrote: …has deep roots in fascism and reactionary politics and white supremacy, and those ideologies exert a powerful gravitational pull on the discipline’s practitioners. If we want to fight those forces, we need to actively work against them. How Classical Studies has “deep roots” in fascism when the field predates the dogma is a mystery. More interesting is Zuckerberg’s reference to …