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  • Jake Wallis Simons

    Jake Wallis Simons

    Journalist. Digital, print, radio, TV. Author of four novels

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  • Digital

    Digital

    "Meet the Settlers: A journey through the West Bank"

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  • Fiction

    Fiction

    Jake's fourth novel, "Jam", is out now. "A skilful road rage novel" – The Telegraph

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  • Broadcasting

    Broadcasting

    Jake presents radio and television for the BBC and others.

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  • Cartoons

    Cartoons

    Has been known to put pen to paper.

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Blog

‘White Van Dan’ has politicians running scared (Telegraph Men column)

By perpetuating the myth that Britain is a ‘classless society’, politicians on all sides have underestimated the power of the white working-class male, writes Jake Wallis Simons

He shaves his head, is covered in tattoos, and spends his spare time pulverising other men in cages. You know who I’m talking about: White Van Dan, the new hero of the British working class.

Over the weekend, the man whose enthusiasm for flags ended Emily Thornberry’s career published his “Danifesto” for the future of the country in the Sun (despite not being able to remember the last time he voted).

It included forcing people to have to work for four years before claiming benefits; jailing people who burn poppies, as happened in 2011; bringing back old-fashioned discipline in schools (“kids are too mouthy now, not like when we had the cane”); and toughening up on immigration (“if people show up uninvited, send them back”).

He seems to be a living, breathing cliché. But then, this has been a story of clichés: the out-of-touch Labour politician; the salt-of-the-earth working-class man; the hysterical media circus; the foot-in-mouth convulsions of Ed Miliband. And it took a man like White Van Dan to give the political classes a wake-up call.

Of all the idiocies that have been spouted by British politicians in recent decades – and there have been many – one of the most transparent is the notion that class is dead. When John Major said that we live in a “classless society”, and Tony Blair argued that “the class war is over”, they were speaking the most appalling guff. Yet it is a myth that is still perpetuated today.

Politicians, seeking to win votes from all classes, are too scared to talk openly about class divisions in Britain, preferring to continue to assert that “we’re all middle class now”. Ed Miliband and David Cameron refuse to even use the term “working class”, preferring mealy-mouthed, patronising euphemisms like “hardworking people” and “everyday people”.

Meanwhile when Emily Thornberry airs her true attitudes on Twitter, or when Grant Shapps commissions a poster suggesting that “hardworking people” are driven solely by bingo and beer, the mask inexorably slips. Read on the Telegraph website

The internet hates men, and no one’s a winner (Telegraph Men column)

The more the online anti-men trend gains traction, the more women will be deprived of decent male allies in the battle against abuse, says Jake Wallis Simons

Sigh. A new current has developed in the polluted ocean of online videos. If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll have noticed it: it involves women, and men, and the former being incessantly harassed by the latter.

I’m talking about those hidden-camera clips in which a female actor records the appalling level of harassment that she was subjected to by men in the street.

The best known was made by Shoshana Roberts, who was filmed walking the streets of New York amid catcalls and sexual comments. Thus far, it has attracted a staggering 36 million views, and has been hailed as a much-needed exposure of the plight of a woman in 21st Century society.

This was followed by a clip made by the “social media entrepreneur” Stephen Zhang, in which a young woman dons a skimpy dress in the middle of the day and pretends to be drunk. An apparently shocking number of men attempted to take advantage of her, some almost forcing her back to their houses before she revealed the trick and escaped.

The trend got a bit silly when a British “dating expert” filmed herself pretending to be lost while wearing different outfits, from a hoodie-and-jeans combination to a leather skirt and boots. How would male Londoners respond? We waited with baited breath. Read on the Telegraph website

Gold mine of cheeky medieval doodles show ancestors just as silly as us (CNN)

Rare “stowaway” manuscripts are found hidden in medieval book bindings, and some of them are rather silly, says Jake Wallis Simons

My personal favorite is this. At the top of a page of angular medieval text — full of theological extrapolations and religious devotion — is a cartoon of a deadpan dog.

“It’s amazing to think that people doodled in medieval times in a similar way to how they doodle today,” says Dr Erik Kwakkel, a book historian at Leiden University, Holland.

“When you see the monks expressing their personalities, their sense of humor, it makes you feel like you’re traveling back through time. It’s like you’re going through the keyhole and sitting right next to them.”

Indeed, that dog would not be out of place in The Simpsons.

Dr Kwakkel is making an unlikely name for himself on the internet by posting “medieval eye candy” that he comes across during the course of his research.

And the doodles are by far the most popular.

“Normally, scribes would doodle or write snatches of lettering after cutting their nibs, to make sure they were the correct width,” he says.

“These pen-tests ranged from the sort of scribbled lines that people still do today to words, names, full sentences, or simple drawings. Sometimes we even find pretty good drawings.”

These include funny faces with long beards, big hats or noses, as well as animals, unidentifiable creatures, and even caricatures of teachers and colleagues. Read on the CNN website

The Arab world needs all the help it can get (Jerusalem Post)

Israel is becoming the natural ally that no Arab state wants to acknowledge, says Jake Wallis Simons

Two years ago, Abdulateef al-Muhim, the former commodore of the Saudi Navy, wrote an article for the Arab News that provoked deep controversy. The Arab world, he argued, has many enemies, and “Israel should have been at the bottom of the list.”

“The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good healthcare, lack of freedom, lack of respect for human lives, and, finally, the many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people,” he wrote, adding, “These dictators’ atrocities against their own citizens are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.”

Twenty-four months later, now that the Arab Spring has dissolved into a mosaic of horrors, his argument seems more convincing than ever. In fact, the real controversy should have been the fact that it was ever controversial at all. After decades of corrupt dictatorships and rising Islamism, a brief glance across the region reveals that the blood of Sunni and Shi’ite spatters almost every cobblestone from the Levant to the Gulf, while severed heads litter the highways.

Alexandria – once a cradle of cosmopolitanism and learning – has collapsed under the weight of Islamism. The once-liberal cities of Beirut and Cairo have fallen prey to illiterate and barbarian fanatics and oppressive juntas.

Libya and Yemen have spiraled into sectarian violence – not to mention Syria and Iraq.

Gone are the final resonances of the Islamic golden age. Such is the level of turmoil that the only stability left in the Arab world can be found in the authoritarian, and often brutally draconian, Gulf states.

As the pre-eminent Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem put it in a recent Politico essay, “Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State [IS]?” In the context of this tragic, wholesale collapse of a formerly magnificent civilization, the Arab preoccupation with the Jewish state is ill-advised at best, and a diversionary tactic at worst. Read on the Jerusalem Post website

Lancet ‘hijacked in anti-Israel campaign’ (Sunday Telegraph)

Senior British medical figures say the well-respected journal is being used as a platform for alleged conspiracy theorists, says Jake Wallis Simons

For almost 200 years, it has been regarded as a well-respected medical journal.

But according to senior British medical figures, the Lancet is being hijacked to campaign indefatigably against Israel, and used as a platform by alleged conspiracy theorists.

In August, it published a controversial “open letter for the people of Gaza” that condemned Israel in the strongest possible terms, but strikingly made no mention of Hamas’ atrocities.

The five principal authors of the letter made it clear that they had “no competing interests”. However, all of them have campaigned vociferously for the Palestinian cause over many years.

In addition, a cache of emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Dr Paola Manduca and Dr Swee Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard.

Dr Swee Ang, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Dr Manduca, a professor of genetics at the University of Genoa in Italy – who are both members of pro-Palestine NGOs – sent round-robin emails to their contacts promoting a video entitled “CNN Goldman Sachs & the Zio Matrix”.

The video features an extended anti-Semitic rant by Duke, in which he claims that “the Zionist Matrix of Power controls Media, Politics and Banking” and that “some of the Jewish elite practices racism and tribalism to advance their supremacist agenda”.

Dr Ang wrote: “This is a shocking video please watch. This is not about Palestine – it is about all of us!”

In another email, Dr Manduca forwarded a message alleging that the Boston marathon bombings were in fact carried out by Jews. “Let us hope that someone in the FBI us smart enough to look more carefully at the clues in Boston and find the real culprits behind these bombings instead of buying the Zionist spin”, it said. Read on the Telegraph website

Did a group of artists eerily predict the Ukrainian crisis? (from CNN)

The biggest-ever exhibition of Ukrainian art has opened in London, and many of the artworks seem to predict the unrest of 2014, says Jake Wallis Simons

To the outside world, the crisis in Ukraine seemed to come out of nowhere.

Cast your mind back to the days before everything changed. Before the revolution; before the downing of MH17; before the Russian tanks rolled into Crimea. Who could have possibly foretold how events would unravel?

But for a group of Ukrainian artists, the violence of 2014 was no surprise. They had been warning of the impending unrest for years — through the medium of visual art.

“It really is uncanny,” says Nigel Hurst, the CEO of the Saatchi Gallery in London, which is hosting a new exhibition of Ukrainian artworks.

“If you look at the art created in the years before the crisis, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that these artists had a sort of weird foresight. It’s as if they had a crystal ball.”

The exhibition teaches us a lot about warmth, openness, and resilience of the Ukrainian people.
Nigel Hurst, CEO, Saatchi Gallery, London

The exhibition, titled Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now, is the biggest of its kind in the world, and will run until 3 November.

Some of the artworks will make the hair on the back of the neck of even the most cynical observer stand on end.

Maxim Mamzikov’s 2012 painting, “Beach,” shows people relaxing by the sea — while behind them a paratrooper is landing in the surf.

A series of photographs called “Mother of Cities” by the artist known as Napsprom, which was created in 2005, envisages the burnt-out shell of the national museum in Kiev. Only the façade is left; the rest of the building is a charred, overgrown ruin.

A spine-chilling 2012 painting by Vasily Tsagolov depicts a crowd of protesters with pitchforks, running side-by-side with skeletons. It is titled “Ghost of Revolution.”

Last but not least, Victor Sydorenko’s 1996 painting envisages a scenario that is eerily similar to the events of 2014, with a group of people watching an explosion. Its name? “Invasion”. Read on the CNN website

Rise and rise of the beard: A short history of the world’s most powerful facial hair (CNN)

Will bearding continue to rise, or is it due for a fall? Opinions differ, says Jake Wallis Simons

When it comes to facial hair, there are few more passionate advocates than Phil Olsen.

As the “founder and self-appointed captain” of Beard Team USA, he was responsible for bringing the sport of competitive bearding to the United States in 2003.

Since then, things have, well, grown.

“It really is quite amazing,” Olsen said from his home in California. “Interest in bearding worldwide has taken off.

“You see more and more facial hair everywhere you look, and every time, it feels like a little victory for me. Men are finally liberating themselves.”

Olsen is one of the “bearders” behind the World Beard and Mustache Championships, which took place in Portland, Oregon, this weekend. Hundreds competed in categories including “full beard natural,” “full beard styled mustache,” “imperial” and “freestyle.”

“Men are competitive. It’s in our very nature,” Olsen said this month. “So why shouldn’t we compete over our beards? It is our uniquely masculine quality, the one thing we can do that most women can’t.” Read on the CNN website

Drug legalisation in the UK is a question of time (Newsweek)

Where America goes, Britain is likely to follow, says Jake Wallis Simons

Twelve years ago, a promising, young politician rose to speak in the British parliament. “I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs,” he said. “That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work.”

He went on to criticise the government for “posturing with tough policies”, and “calling for crackdown after crackdown”, thereby “holding back the debate”. And when a vote was called, his was cast in support of “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”.

Meanwhile, 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, a fresh-faced Senator made a similar speech at Northwestern University, Illinois. “The battle, the war on drugs has been an utter failure,” he said. “We need to rethink and decriminalise our marijuana laws.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and both men – David Cameron and Barack Obama – are in positions of power over their respective countries. Yet while the United States has taken steps towards reforming drug legislation, UK drugs policy remains as rigid as ever. Continue reading on the Newsweek website

Photos that make you question reality (CNN)

Known for playing with reality and fiction, this artist has fooled institutions with his ‘false’ records of strange animals, writes Jake Wallis Simons

There’s only one way to start an interview with Joan Fontcuberta. Why, I ask him, should I believe a word he says?

“I like that question,” says the pre-eminent Spanish conceptual artist, when we meet in the café at London’s Science Museum.

“I believe that doubting is the first step to rational knowledge. Not doubting implies submission, which is dangerous.”

If truth be told, there are more reasons to doubt Fontcuberta than anyone else.

After all, this is the man who has pranked, dodged and bamboozled his way to the top of the art world… Continue reading on the CNN website

JWS presents on BBC Breakfast TV: when the last Holocaust survivor dies, what will happen?