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07/11/2006

Magazine Roundup

Die Weltwoche | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Review of Books | Vanity Fair | Outlook India | Asharq al-Awsat | Al Ahram Weekly | Le point | The Times Literary Supplement | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Times Book Review


Die Weltwoche, 03.11.2006 (Switzerland)

The seven billion dollar border fence between the USA and Mexico is completely senseless, writes Mario Vargas Llosa. On the one hand, it's child's play to get around it, and on the other hand immigrants are a boon for the economy. Llosa cites his American cleaning lady Emerita as an example. She used to charge sixty, now she charges one hundred dollars for two hours of work. "She has the newest Buick and ultra-modern appliances for sweeping, polishing, cleaning and washing. On Saturday – she works six days a week and has Sundays off – she is helped out by her husband, who works the rest of the week as a gardener. How much he earns I don't know, but Emerita cleans an average of four to five houses a day, for a monthly income of at least 8,000 dollars. She and her husband have a house in Washington and another in Mexico."


Elet es Irodalom, 03.11.2006 (Hungary)

Hungary is getting lost in a dangerous dead-end street, writes Janos Kis, one of Hungary's foremost political scientists. The initiative of the largest opposition party, Fidesz, to deter a referendum on the government's reforms is unconstitutional. "The most important organs for the exercise of power in Hungary's parliamentary democracy are parliament and the government. Their decisions may be modified through referenda, but not completely thwarted, because that would mean disallowing the elected majority the right to govern."

György Baron celebrates "Taxidermia", the second feature film of the young Hungarian director György Palfi, who shot to international fame with his debut film "Hukkle". "The greatest saga novels of world literature are chronicles of decline – what was once a colourful life becomes increasingly thin and sparse, as events progress in time. György Palfi's family chronicle based on the writings of Lajos Parti Nagy is a radical revision of the genre. It starts at a ultimate low point beyond which no family can sink. Against ever-changing backdrops three generations move in identical circles of decline: sex, food, drink, emptiness, death, auto-erotica, auto-autopsy, auto-taxidermy. A saga novel with the cultural veneer radically removed, shows the universally human – and the universally animal – in us... Despite the shocking images, I will risk the sentence: 'Taxidermia' is a lovely film."


The New York Review of Books, 16.11.2006 (USA)

Gary Wills sums up how the evangelicals who constitute approximately one third of the US population have gradually tightened their grip on power since George Bush has been in office. America now has faith-based justice, faith-based social services, faith-based science and even a faith-based war in Iraq, aimed at stymieing Satan. But, "there is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose?"

Further articles: Martin Filler tells the story of the J.P Getty Trust which is struggling to save face and tax-free status after a number of scandals "of such magnitude that only classical mythology seems to offer archetypes equal to this present-day epic of hubris and retribution." Bill McKibben introduces new books on the climate catastrophe, among them "The Revenge of Gaia" in which scientist James Lovelock predicts a temperature rise of 8 degrees in the next decades which only around 200 million people will survive once they've moved to the Arctic Circle. The good news: Lovelock's predictions have generally tended to be a little out.


Vanity Fair, 01.11.2006 (USA)

The Neocons can't leave the sinking ship quickly enough. David Rose has collected a number of short statements from prominent hawks, among them Richard Perle, David Frum and Kenneth Adelman, all of whom are now washing their hands of Iraq and jabbing the finger at White House incompetence, and the president in particular. "Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: 'I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.' Now he says, 'I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."


Outlook India, 13.11.2006 (India)

Arshad Alam, who works at the Center for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies, calls upon Europe to stop branding the veil as a symbol of exclusion and understand it as an expression of the will to integrate. "The old worldview of the parents restricted Muslim girls' movement and freedom after they attained puberty. In many Muslim homes, the veil became - and is - a symbol of compromise. It gives parents the assurance that their daughter is dressed according to the Muslim norms so that no one can question the family while at the same time it gives Muslim girls freedom of movement whereby they can go for higher studies or can look for a job. Ironically then, the veil which many see as the symbol of oppression gets used as a symbol of freedom. Especially in the European context, the veil is not always symptomatic of tradition or backwardness; rather it is also a tool, which furthers Muslim women's integration into modernity."

Asharq Al-Awsat, 18.10.2006 (Saudi Arabia / UK)

The decision by the French National Assembly to make denying the Armenian genocide a punishable offence has raised protest not only in Turkey. Many Algerian intellectuals are also outraged, as al-Khayr Shawar reports from Algiers, quoting theatre critic Ihsan Talilani: "The French attitude is questionable, and demonstrates that French politics employs a double standard. While France tries to portray itself as a civilised nation that sympathises with the Armenians, its own history if full of bloody acts, crimes and massacres committed in Algeria. At the same time, it tries to hide these crimes with a law that glorifies colonialism."

Muhammad al-Mazjudi reports on the success of the French film "Days of Glory" by Rachid Bouchareb. The film, which tells the story of the soldiers from French the colonies during the Second World War, has "perhaps left more psychological traces in less than a month than all the acts of violence in the suburbs."


Al Ahram Weekly, 01.11.2006 (Egypt)

Gamil Mattar sketches an international charter to prevent people making political capital out of their historical guilt: "Civilization must begin afresh. Perhaps what is needed to set it off on the right track is an international charter drawn up and signed by the representatives of the member nations of the UN, of the nations that have yet to attain independence and of the minorities in existing nations. Under this charter all signatories would submit a written declaration, to be appended to the charter and regarded as an integral part of it, in which they confess to and apologise for the injustices they perpetrated against other peoples and which, in turn, are officially accepted by the peoples in question."


Le point, 02.11.2006 (France)

Israeli historian Elie Barnavi explains in an interview why the West should finally stop being ashamed of itself. Even if we can't export our values by force, he argues in his most recent book "Les religions meurtrieres" (The murderous religions), we have to be able to defend them within our our countries. "Islamism is gaining ground, but it hasn't won the game. We have to put our hope in the vast majority of Muslims who reject this radicalism. But we must not make the slightest compromise to the rest, and if need be use coercion. The point is not to chase the veil from the street, but to insist on a club etiquette. We belong to a club that is open to everyone, but it has rules: Chess is played here. If you want to play checkers, you must do it somewhere else."


The Times Literary Supplement, 03.11.2006 (UK)

Economic inequality is increasingly taking the form of political inequality, writes Stein Ringen in a eulogy of Robert Dahl's new book "On Political Equality," pointing to the rise of what Alexis de Tocqueville called soft despotism. "Charities make themselves attractive to private largesse, as do cultural institutions, schools and universities, and public and care services. In all these areas, elected legislatures do less decision-making publicly, and the rich more privately. Economic power is also making itself felt directly in the machinery of democracy. The mechanism is mega-expensive politics, whereby political candidates, parties and campaigns become dependent on large donations from rich individuals or institutions." Democracy, for Ringen, "is increasingly corrupt, and from one country to another tainted by crises of funding. In countries like the US and Britain, it is not too extreme to say that this is already making nonsense of the idea of fair democratic competition."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 04.11.2006 (Poland)

Democracy in Poland reminds the philosopher Leszek Koczanowicz "of a sucked egg. Everything looks alright on the outside – elections take place, governing parties rotate in and out of office. But in truth political life is only slithering along, interesting fewer people and inspiring less and less hope that something can be changed. What's more, the elites seem to have no interest in redressing this problem. In any case, audiences for the spectacle of politics seem to be dwindling."

Theatre director Krystian Lupa, who is now rehearsing Thomas Bernhard's play "Over all the Mountain Tops," tells in an interview why he is so fascinated by the Austrian author: "Bernhard lets our inner twit speak. When we're tired, we start whining and yammering, something like the mantra of a beggar in a pedestrian underpass, which we otherwise suppress to be good Europeans." For Lupa, "becoming an adult means total disappointment. A child thinks that being an adult is like a great toy he's not allowed to play with. Then it turns out that the toy is nothing buy garbage, and the devil knows what else. And this 'the devil knows what else' is our life."


The New York Times Book Review, 05.11.2006 (USA)

Michael Kinsley presents a handful of books dealing with the poor state of American democracy. For Kinsley, one factor is above all responsible: "The enormous tolerance for intellectual dishonesty." One example is the 2000 elections. "A few days before the 2000 election, the Bush team started assembling people to deal with a possible problem: what if Bush won the popular vote but Gore carried the Electoral College. They decided on, and were prepared to begin, a big campaign to convince the citizenry that it would be wrong for Gore to take office under those circumstances. And they intended to create a tidal wave of pressure on Gore's electors to vote for Bush, which arguably the electors as free agents have the authority to do. In the event, of course, the result was precisely the opposite, and immediately the Bushies launched into precisely the opposite argument: the Electoral College is a vital part of our Constitution, electors are not free agents, threatening the Electoral College result would be thumbing your nose at the founding fathers, and so on. Gore, by the way, never did challenge the Electoral College, although some advisers urged him to do so. Of all the things Bush did and said during the 2000 election crisis, this having-it-both-ways is the most corrupt."
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