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20/03/2007

Magazine Roundup

Vanity Fair | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Yorker | Le Figaro | Die Weltwoche | Europa | The Spectator | Il Foglio | The Economist | Al Ahram Weekly | Le point | DU | The New York Times


Vanity Fair 01.04.2007 (USA)

Englishman A.A. Gill rails against the bad behaviour of his fellow ex-pats in New York. "Why is it that the English continue to get it all so wrong in New York? There is something particularly, peculiarly irritating about the Brits over here. This is a city that's wide open to strangers, lumpy with a homogeneity of schemers and immigrants, yet the Brits manage to remain aloof and apart, the grit in the Vaseline. Those with the voices like broken crockery, the book-at-bedtime accent, have a lot to answer for. The Brits believe that they have a birth-given sincerity and that it's not what you say but how you say it that matters. And that all silly, gullible Yanks, from policemen to society hostesses, will wave us ahead on life's road when we open our euphonious mouth. In fact, most Americans can't tell the difference between Billy Connolly and Russell Crowe, and why on earth should they? If you really, really want to disjoint an Englishman - ruin his day - then just ask him which bit of Australia he's from."

Further articles: According to former CIA agent Robert Baer, London has more colourful adventurers per block than any other city in the world. "Rogue oil traders, art forgers, exiled presidents, disgraced journalists, arms dealers. There was also the Jordanian prince who had once offered to smuggle me into Ramadi, in Iraq's anarchic Anbar Province, in exchange for 100 sheep. People like these are pretty much the currency of C.I.A. agents." He dedicates a lengthy portrait to Tim Spicer, the king of the mercenaries.

And in an interview with Peter Biskind, David Chase explains why he couldn't show his "Sopranos" series on the broadcast networks. "Network television and those who run it are phenomenal at putting their finger on whatever it is that really excites you about the project and telling you to take that out or change it. It's genius. We went to CBS and we told 'em the whole thing. And they said, 'It's great - this is fantastic. But … I don't know about the Prozac. And does he have to be seeing a psychiatrist?'"


Gazeta Wyborcza 17.03.2007 (Poland)

Piotr Pacewicz addresses the hot topic of Polish homophobia. Prime Minister Kaczynski has not endorsed the announcement of deputy Minister for Education Miroslaw Orzechowski that all homosexual teachers will lose their jobs. He is willing to respect their rights as citizens, but says they should not speak about their sexual orientation. "Unfortunately more is at stake here than just conservative votes," writes Pacewicz. "The government is agreed that the existence of homosexuals in Poland should be one of a partial non-existence – according to which they enjoy full rights, only not in the area which defines their otherness." Sadly around 40 percent of Poles share this opinion, according to Pacewicz, which is mostly due to the creation of sexual taboos in society as a whole."


The New Yorker 26.03.2007 (USA)

The New Yorker has revamped its site. A clear layout and loads of free content. Nice work!

In a reportage entitled "Betrayed" George Packer portrays the Iraqis that the Americans trust the most: translators. "Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country's religious and ethnic spectrum, welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young men and women who embraced America's project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq's smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country - a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam's Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, 'a one-way road leading to nothing.'"

Simon Schama examines what Picasso took from Rembrandt and Anthony Lane goes to the cinema to see "Reign Over Me" by Mike Binder and "Premonition" by Mennan Yapo starring Sandra Bullock.

Le Figaro 16.03.2007 (France)

Historian Max Gallo (website) and essayist Alain Finkielkraut (blog) both grapple with the French identity in their new books. (Gallo: "L'Ame de la France", Fayard; Finkielkraut: "Qu'est-ce que la France?", Stock). Here they discuss their theses, a renewed interest in democracy and the meaning of nation. On the latter Finkielkraut has the following to say: "The nation is the pillar of democracy. We have a perfect negative example in Iraq. The American intervention was disastrous because the Americans believed it was possible to introduce democracy in a non-national society (...) and unleashed the infernal powers of civil war. We are not this far along in France yet, but it is no longer the national memory that forms daily life, but television." The leftist patriot Max Gallo refuses to "see black" for the nation. "We know today that the European construction is nothing but an oligarchic construction. Which means that all is not lost for the nation. We have only to put our minds to it."


Die Weltwoche 15.03.2007 (Switzerland)

Julian Schütt visits the Gulf Art Fair in Dubai. He was invited to join Omar Bin Sulaiman, head of the Centre of Finance in Dubai, in his tour of the opening. Omar is number 81 in the sheik hierarchy, a fact that is apparently echoed in his car number plate. "He inspects a number of works closely. A two-to-three second glance means that the picture is reserved. If the eyes linger longer, the picture is sold. And this is clearly the case with a gigantic six-by-three-metre Sam Francis. Others, Dr. Omar passes without a flicker of interest. A real Mini Cooper for example which Damien Hirst has covered in polka dots and which therefore passes as art. The best thing about it is the glove compartment where the gallerist can store her handbag."

In an interview, former Nestle boss Helmut Maucher encourages Ralph Pöhner to embrace risk. "Total security is a problem of our times. Because the last two percent of security are famously the most expensive. And this applies everywhere. Today people want security everywhere. Security in the workplace. Security in what they eat – the last millionth of a trace of some substance or another has to be eliminated, although people would have to eat tonnes of the stuff before their bodies would notice anything. It's thinking like this that is causing us to degenerate slowly while racking up the costs at the same time."


Europa 17.03.2007 (Poland)

This edition of the magazine of the Polish daily Dziennik is devoted to radicalism and revolution. Philippe Raynaud introduces the philosopher Alain Badiou whose book "Saint Paul. The Foundation of Universalism" (more here) is due for publication in Poland. In the article Raynaud places Badiou among the representatives of the new radical left who refuse to renounce Marxism and Leninism. "His political positions often reflect the opinion of the majority of French society, although he is undoubtedly original in his radicalism, which is expressed in the philosophical and in particular the political path he has taken. The charm of his writings originates from his collation of two types of radical democracy critique: the criticism that bourgeois society is mediocre and the accusation that it has failed to follow through on its promise of equality. Badiou's success also stems in part from his expression of anti-democratic passions which are far from being extinct in slews of radical leftists."

Discussion has flared in Poland up over the latest book by poet and writer Jaroslaw Marek Rymkiewicz. In "Wieszanie" ("Hanging") he maintains that if Poland had been harder on traitors in 1794 during the Kosciuszko Uprising, and also in 1989, today's society would be more modern and "more political," and less caught up with the idea of national unity. Philosopher Bronislaw Laowski writes that the book is being so positively reviewed because it expresses the current "post-Solidarity" mood (in both senses) in Polish society. "Every political-cultural formation seeks to find its reflection in historical models, myths or precedents. The formation prevailing today will see itself in the picture Rymkiewicz holds up for it. Individual readers, for their part, will read this well-written book about the hanging of traitors as compensation for the country's real development over the last 20 years."


The Spectator 19.03.2007 (UK)

Was Churchill an anti-Semite? Historian Richard Toye makes this allegation in a new book, backing up his argument with an article from 1937 which makes use of several anti-Semitic stereotypes. Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert will have nothing of it. The article was written by Churchill's speech-writer Adam Marshall Diston and was never published because Churchill never approved of it, he writes. Churchill considered anti-Semitism an abhorrence, and the Dreyfus Affair "a monstrous conspiracy." And "following the Jewish terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, at a time of strong anti-Jewish feeling in Britain, Churchill told the House of Commons: 'I am against preventing Jews from doing anything which other people are allowed to do. I am against that, and I have the strongest abhorrence of the idea of anti-Semitic lines of prejudice.'"

In the lead article, Austen Ivereigh of the Strangers into Citizens initiative explains why the UK would be shooting itself in the foot with a campaign against illegal immigration. He proposes that "those who have been in the UK for at least four years should be given a two-year work permit, at the end of which, subject to certain criteria (employer and character references, proficiency in English, and — all right, Gordon Brown — community service), they are given leave to remain. Criminals and extremists are weeded out; thousands of people get the dignity and rights which they deserve; the underground economy shrinks, and general happiness reigns."


Il Foglio 17.03.2007 (Italy)

With the growth of eroticism and pornography in postmodern society, prostitution seems to be losing its significance, notes Roberta Tatafiore after visiting a club that seemed to be a blend of swinger club and brothel. The former porn star and manager of this very proper establishment "takes in the club cards and explains the rules to newcomers. It is forbidden for couples to separate. The private booths may be occupied by no more than four people. It is forbidden to exchange telephones or entrance tickets with a naked partner. Men must wear condoms. And of course alcohol, drugs and making advances at other guests are all strictly forbidden."


The Economist 16.03.2007 (UK)

The magazine tells how new financing models have started to alter film production in Hollywood: "For the past few years the big studios have encouraged hedge funds and other investors to back 'slates' of several dozen films spread over more than a year.... Last September Merrill Lynch estimated that outsiders cover more than 30 percent of the cost of film production.... This has changed the arc of Hollywood careers. Not so long ago, producers and film stars who fell out with studio bosses might retire to write books with titles like 'You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.' These days they round up some private equity and get back to work."


Al Ahram Weekly 15.03.2007 (Egypt)

On the occasion of Egyptian Women's Day on March 16, the magazine features a dossier on the still unsatisfactory state of women's emancipation. Dina Ezzat reports on a conference of the National Council for Women, likening its results to those of the Arab Human Development Report of the UNDP: "It is the elimination of the roots of discrimination against women in cultural constructs that the report highlights as being crucial. For the report, in a world where religion, mainly Islam, is and has been used to justify the position set for women in most Arab countries, Islam -- more than any laws or legislation, important as these are -- needs to be properly construed as a source of support for the rise of women. This is perhaps the reason why the call for the re-engagement of ijtihad -- the encouragement of independent scholarship, as the authors phrase it -- is an endless feature of the various sections of the report. 'Seeds of discrimination against women in Arab tradition need to be eliminated,' and for this to happen the anti-women cultural bias should not feed on prejudicial readings of the holy text of the Quran, the report suggests."

In other articles, Amira El-Noshokaty writes a portrait of Egyptian career women. A further dossier looks back on a century of Egyptian film (here, here and here). And Rania Khallaf remembers the composer and pioneer of modern Arab music, Sayed Darwish.


Le point 15.03.2007 (France)

In an engaging interview, historian and Antiquity expert Paul Veyne talks about his newest book ("Quand notre monde est devenu chretien", Albin Michel) on the mystery of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. Asked if Roman Emperor Constantine really believed in a metaphysical plan and was not just reacting to social and political needs when he converted to Christianity, Veyne answers: "Beware of prejudices! Christianity was successful because it was culturally and spiritually superior to paganism and the Eastern religions. You have to see that just like every bestseller, it created the conditions for its own success. Today we don't stop repeating that capitalist society puts new products on the market and creates false needs. Christianity created a sensibility that then provided it with crucial support."

In his "notebook" column, Bernard-Henri Levy reflects on Darfur and French politics.


DU 01.03.2007 (Switzerland)

This issue is dedicated to Arab women writers. Palestinian author Suad Amiry tells what she talked about with her girlfriend on the way to a fitness studio in Ramallah: "'How's the course been so far?' 'Not bad at all!' answered Penny, adding in her charming, childlike tone: 'You know Suad, recently someone was shot and wounded at Tri Fittness. But don't worry, they were on the roof, not in our aerobics class.' 'Is that a fact!' I was horrified. All I wanted was for Penny to stop the car, turn around and take me back to my living room sofa where I've lounged around every night since I got back from Italy some time ago. 'Was he badly hurt? Who shot him? And why? And when?' I asked worriedly. I had to stop myself from pressing her with more questions. 'The Israelis say someone shot at the Jewish settlement Pisgot, but the Tri Fitness manager says they're a bunch of lying bastards, and that no one shot at Pisgot. It was just the poor plumber repairing the water tank on the roof.'"


The New York Times 18.03.2007 (USA)

"Great-hearted and acidly funny" is how James Poniewozik describes Joshua Ferris' first novel "Then We Came to the End" (excerpt) about life in a Chicago advertising agency during the dotcom crisis. "Above all, Ferris has a sixth sense for paranoia. Information professionals crave information, and when it is denied them — who is going next, how many and why — they spin superstitious theories and adopt curious totems. The employees discover that the office coordinator keeps tabs on which furniture belongs in which offices, and they fear that their chairs — scavenged from laid-off peers with better furniture, in a round-robin so complex no one remembers whose Aeron was originally whose — will get them fired. The chair becomes a symbol for all that is hated and lusted-after about work. It is a prison and a status symbol, a reminder that 'their' offices are not really their own, a means of exercising minor tyranny, a reward, a throne, a life preserver."
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