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27/03/2007

Magazine Roundup

Lettre International | The New York Review of Books | Outlook India | L'Espresso | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Spectator | Il Foglio | The Economist | De Groene Amsterdammer | Elet es Irodalom | Elsevier | Die Weltwoche | The New Yorker | Al Ahram Weekly | ResetDoc | The American Scholar


Lettre International
01.04.2007 (Germany)

The new edition of Lettre investigates the potential of the city. The anthropologist Filip de Boeck visited Kinshasa, the "insane" mega-city which is "construction and destruction, erection and impotence, excess and poverty, orgy and death" in one. "Kinshasa is all about the body. Where stones tumble and concrete collapses, another material is needed: the human body. The simple fact that so many bodies move, work, eat, drink, meet, pray, dance, fast and suffer together lends Kinshasa its own temperament, its typical, often feverish rhythm. The body, this 'wish machine' as David Harvey calls it, gives the city's chaos a certain order. Or more to the point, it is these bodies that force their interpersonal logic onto the city. The body is one of the few places where the inhabitants of Kinshasa can leave behind their brutal daily life which feels to many like bare survival. Often this body is simply reduced to the level of the stomach or the phallus."

Historian Karl Schlögel looks back at Moscow in the year 1937, the Moscow of the Great Terror. "What does this picture show? Fear. Secret police everywhere. Talk of conspiracy. Mistrust everywhere. Unpredictability. The shocking realisation that everything is possible, that there is no protection and no chance of defence. The experience of being utterly at the mercy of the regime. The absurdity of the accusations. Defendants admitting to crimes they didn't commit, self-denial and self-accusal. Utter arbitrariness which can hit anyone."

Further articles: Carlos Castresana defends an outright ban on torture, any eroding of which is an insult to human dignity. Nadine Gordimer asks what evidence can and should be given by literature. The Swedish author Sven Lindqvist discusses the allied bombing of Nazi Deutschland and arrives at the conclusion that it can be accounted for less in terms of war tactics than competition between different classes of British weapons. "Today's bomb attacks will not respect today's laws as long as yesterday's crimes are excused or even glorified."


The New York Review of Books 12.04.2007 (USA)

Jason DeParle takes a close look at the "American nightmare" of overflowing prisons. "Seven Americans in every thousand are behind bars. That is nearly five times the historic norm and seven times higher than most of Western Europe." The chances of an Afro-American man landing in prison is eight times that of white man. But reform is being impeded, DeParle writes, because "mass incarceration seems to have made the streets safer. The vast increase in the prison and jail population from about 380,000 in 1975 to 2.2 million today overlaps with equally stunning declines in crime."

Further articles: Author Stephen Greenblatt describes what he learnt from Bill Clinton about ethics and power in Shakespeare. "In Shakespeare no character with a clear moral vision has a will to power and, conversely, no character with a strong desire to rule over others has an ethically adequate object." Billionaire and philanthropist George Soros rages against the refusal of the USA and Israel to recognise the Palestinian unity government. He recommends following the compromise put forward by Saudi Arabia.


Outlook India 02.04.2007 (India)

One does not have to share Ayaan Hirsi Ali's political opinions to be impressed by her, writes Taslima Nasrin, as she reads Hirsi Ali's autobiography "Infidel". She sees the book principally as a woman's success story. "Ayaan is a symbol of courage, not only for all Muslim women but also for women everywhere, whatever their religion and culture. She has made her place in a man's world—she is everywhere, but came from nowhere. That one pious woman became an atheist is not that moving to me. What is moving is that a vulnerable, dependent, fragile, beaten and threatened woman has become one of the most influential persons in the world. Any woman's life is far more complex than most imagine, and if the West's weakness is in settling for simple answers, Ayaan knows how to exploit this."

Further articles: Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri talks in an interview about the filming of her novel "The Namesake." And Namrata Joshi was impressed by the film but intends to read the book nevertheless.


L'Espresso 29.03.2007 (Italy)

Not only Wittgenstein found inspiration in crime fiction, other philosophers demonstrated their affiliations with the detective novel, writes Umberto Eco in a train of thought that brings him back to Renato Giovannoli and his book "Elementare, Wittgenstein!" "Chesterton defined the detective novel as the symbol of the greatest secret, and Deleuze says that a philosophical book should be a crime book of sorts. And what are Thomas Aquinas's five ways to prove God's existence if not an investigation into traces that someone has left behind. But the 'Hardboiled' stories had their share of philosophy too. Look at Pascal and his wager: okay, we'll reshuffle the cards and see what happens. This is just what Marlowe and Sam Spade do."


Tygodnik Powszechny 19.03.2007 (Poland)

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the Polish magazine looks back at the history of European integrations. One focus is on "nations without a state" and the article on Scotland is available online. "The relationship to England is a singular mixture of pride and a feeling of superiority with complexes and animosity. Public discussions, in the newspapers and Internet forums are dominated by the call for independence. It's a question of when, not if, the Scots say." The driving separatist force is the desire to keep the money from Scotland's oil fields in the country, although there is a widespread fear of being held responsible for the dissolution of Great Britain. The plans are already well under way. There is a national anthem, a flag and a national holiday, but it still undecided whether another monarch should replace "Mrs Philip Mountbatten" or "the Duchess of Edinburgh", as the Nationalists call Elizabeth II. "Recently Prince Harry's name was raised – wouldn't it be great if the divided Great Britain were to be ruled by two brothers, William in England and Harry in Scotland."


The Spectator 26.03.2007 (UK)

The fact that a number of models have starved themselves to death has not put teenage girls off wanting to be thin. Schoolgirl Cleo Watson reports on the size-zero hell at her girl's school. "It is not a skinny model in Vogue who persuades the girls at my school to follow in their footsteps, it's 'ordinary' women like Wayne Rooney’s girlfriend, Coleen, and her latest all-powerful, cellulite-busting yo-yo diet; also the endless stories of 'real-life' people who lost lots of weight and lost it fast. These are our heroes. Though we’re all relatively bright girls at a decent school, our role models aren't professional lawyers, politicians or novelists, they are first and foremost thin women. We all love watching Sex and the City, but I've noticed that despite the fact that so many of us want successful professional careers, we would all rather be Carrie, with her minuscule waist, than Miranda, the less glamorous friend who is a partner at a law firm, has a baby and a fantastic apartment."


Il Foglio 24.03.2007 (Italy)

Like an ethologist disgusted by the mores of primitive rainforest peoples, Claudia Cerasa inspects the Easy Jet and Ryan Air customers (here and here). "The compulsive cheap flyer eats cheaply, has subscribed to loads of newsletters and is constantly on the hunt for special offers, London for free, Paris for half price, last minute, last second, he doesn't know how to make decent use of the Internet but he buys on Ebay, he uses Internet banking but doesn't like credit cards. In his rucksack he has a Routard guide for London from 2001/2002, dates, discount tickets for bars and restaurants, an invitation to the Steak House Picadilly, more discount tickets, luncheon vouchers, a Marlboro Classic jacket and books that have something to do with the flight destination."

And Ugo Bertone interviws the CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, whose reputation is suffering after having being accused of harassment and discrimination.


The Economist 23.03.2007 (UK)

The Economist asks what will become of the book in the digital age. Certain reference and non-fiction genres might have their papery existence threatened, but fiction is more likely to survive. "But even anthologies of short stories and poems, like longer novels, are unlikely to disappear. People want to be guided by others. They also want media suitable for unhurried reading in beds and bathtubs and on beaches. Above all, they want paper books for what digitisation is revealing them to be. Books are not primarily artefacts, nor necessarily vehicles for ideas. Rather, as Seth Godin puts it, they are 'souvenirs of the way we felt' when we read something. That is something that people are likely to go on buying."


De Groene Amsterdammer 23.03.2007 (The Netherlands)

Gangster Rap now comes home-grown in the Netherlands. Kees de Koning, Dutch music connoisseur and head of the HipHop label "Top Notch" describes the milieu that is producing the new stars of this "Nederhop". "Drive out West or South East of Dordrech, or got to the outskirts of any big or medium city – poverty is all around you. Think of all the soup kitchens. The media seems to be blind to the fact that almost 20 percent of the Dutch live below the poverty line. A rapper like Kempi has grown up in this world and he spent several years behind bars. In his music he simply talks about his life but people write him off as a wannabe gangster playing at ghetto."


Elet es Irodalom 23.03.2007 (Hungary)

"Not even on March 15, one of our country's most important national holidays, can our state dignitaries and party leaders get it together to stand each other's presence for even a half an hour of celebrations," complains Ignac Romsics, one of the best-known Hungarian historians, in an interview with Eszter Radai. According to Romsics, political fronts have now become so hardened that the country's development is being hindered. "Major decisions effecting Hungary are delayed for months. And when a reform is pushed through, the next government declares it null and void… In consequence, the profiles of the two camps have become entirely clear: the Left invokes Enlightenment rationalism and the liberal and democratic currents born out of it. The Right orients itself around conservative and religious ideologies formulated in reaction to the Enlightenment, or which only accept it to a limited extent."


Elsevier
23.03.2007 (The Netherlands)

For most Dutch the EU is "pure fiction," writes legal expert Afshin Ellian, who has recently joined Leon de Winter as op-ed columnist. This weariness comes from "citizens no longer believing they can influence anything in the EU. And then there are the politicians, mouthing the so-called self-critique that Europe just needs to be properly explained to the Europeans. 'Europe has to be better conveyed,' said the PvdA state secretary for European affairs Frans Timmermans recently. We're not dumb! We're no herd of sheep, shuffling along placidly behind our shepherds. Our citizens want to know exactly what's being talked about in Europe, and what's being decided upon. And that only works in a national parliament."


Die Weltwoche 22.03.2007 (Switzerland)

Bruno Ziauddin paints an epic portrait of Roger Federer, the world's number one tennis player for the past three years. Federer seems to be perfect on all fronts. And he's got a talent for handling the media, as we discover in an accompanying interview: "The really cool thing about my job is that I'm my own boss, and can do what I like. Not like a soccer player, who can be transferred at will or forbidden from lying in a hammock because it's not good for his club's image. It's entirely my decision if I walk around in a suit or stark naked. – Two more questions?"

Unfortunately Anne Applebaum's description of Vladimir Putin as a Soviet-style autocrat is not online in German, but here is the original from the Washington Post.


The New Yorker 02.04.2007 (USA)

Hobby cook and author Bill Buford portrays star chef Gordon Ramsay, the sole London chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, who has now relocated to New York. "Ramsay, who is also the host of three uniquely adversarial in-your-face television shows ('Hell's Kitchen' in the United States; 'The F Word' and 'Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares' in the United Kingdom), is not the most abusive person running a restaurant. And although a British undercover documentary once captured him in mid-torrent, profanities flowing in a diatribe directed at a young intern, earning Ramsay the title of one of the country’s 'most unbearable bosses,' the people who work for him show a tenacious, irrational-seeming loyalty verging on love. But he does get angry, helplessly and uncontrollably angry—not an earthly anger but something darker—and has trouble knowing how to stop."

Further articles: Jeffrey Goldberg explains how Wal-Mart is using democratic PR experts to polish up its reputation for poor pay, niggardly benefits, sexual discrimination and broken union agreements. John Updike reviews the book "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson. Arthur Phillips discusses the first English translation of Sandor Marai's novel "The Rebels." Alex Ross has heard pianists Lang Lang and Yundi Li at Carnegie Hall. Only in print: Jane Kramer on the Pope and inter-confessional dialogue, and an article on the 400th birthday of Jamestown.


Al Ahram Weekly 22.03.2007 (Egypt)

Hassan Nafaa looks with a little envy to Mauritania, where the military government has honoured its committment to allow Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who came to power in a 2005 putch, to be voted out of office in free elections. A model for Egypt? "Before Mauritania, there has only been one case in which the military stepped down voluntarily in favour of a civilian government. That was the case of Siwar Al-Dahab in Sudan. This makes the Mauritanian experience all the more relevant. Indeed, it may turn out to be a harbinger of things to come. I have a feeling that we'll see other cases in which the military would act as an incubator for democracy. My reasons for thinking so are: first, the Arab region is experiencing the kind of uncertainty and despair that may culminate in uncontrollable chaos and instability; second, there is a lack of organised and trustworthy groups that can propose an alternative political vision, rally public support, and conduct a peaceful transition of power; third, the public is dismayed with the conventional role of the military and hoping for a change that may initiate a process of democratisation."

Further articles: There is potential for change. Ayman El-Amir considers the silent majority in the Arab world, that has no possibility of expressing itself freely. "Like magma under the crust of the earth, it is torrid, turbulent, calmly surging and waiting for an opening to break out."


ResetDoc 23.03.2007 (Italy)

In an interview, Egyptian author Alaa El Aswany (more), explains that he's had enough of theoretical debates on democracy. "Debates, conferences and meetings on conditions for democracy have no sense. We cannot talk of democracy only on a theoretical level; first we need to put it into practice. And to simplify the argument, I am of the opinion that democracy consists of respecting human rights, legitimate elections, alternating those in power without it leading to violence and coup d'etats, and the people’s right to choose their own leaders.... unfortunately tyranny is everywhere. There are 22 Arabic countries and not one democracy!"

Philosopher and legal expert Martha Nussbaum claims in an interview that Islam is "perfectly compatible with Women Rights." She finds evidence in India (not Pakistan). "What we see in some nations, then, is not Islam itself, but a politicized version of Islam that is not a necessary interpretation of those religious texts. (...) As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, maybe she ought to have moved to India rather than the USA: surely she'd have a lot better chance of playing a leading role in political or intellectual life there, as a woman, than in the USA. We might also mention Bangladesh, a democracy where 85 percent are Muslims and women (both Muslim) lead both of the two main political parties."

Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush (more) doesn't want to rectify the claim that Islam and reason are antithetical, as the Pope, among others, has upheld. It is particularly inapplicable to Iran. "Today, the movement of religious intellectuals in Iran is striving to redefine the relationship between reason and revelation. And, on the interpretation of scripture (i.e., the Koran) in particular, it is seeking assistance from modern hermeneutics and the experience that Christianity has had. And, contrary to what the Pope seems to think, far from fearing multiple interpretations of the Koran and deeming this to be a violation of the fact that the Koran's words are divine revelation, these religious intellectuals believe that Islam consists precisely of these multiple interpretations and that it is virtually impossible to reach religion’s pure kernel."


The American Scholar 26.03.2007 (USA)

Michael McDonald's article on Peter Handke's defense of Milosevic (more here) is now online and has met with major opposition. For example, from Michael Roloff, "Handke's first translator into English": "McDonald's piece is but the latest installment of the forever same caricature of Handke's political position on Yugoslavia which is then employed to cudgel the work of an author that one misreads just as badly", Roloff writes on the website handke-discussion.blogspot.com. And that's just the beginning!
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