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11/09/2007

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Le Monde | Al Hayat | Il Foglio | Die Weltwoche | Literaturen | Gazeta Wyborcza | The Economist | The Times Literary Supplement | Trouw | Elet es Irodalom | Figyelö | The Guardian | The Spectator


The New Yorker 17.09.2007 (USA)

Under the title "Planning for Defeat" George Packer tackles the issue of whether the US army can withdraw from Iraq. The failure of the policy aimed at reconciling enemy sides cannot be attributed to the Iraqis alone and does not absolve the USA of responsibility. "Instead, it raises a new set of moral and strategic questions that are, in their way, more painful than at any other phase of the war. Facing these questions requires American leaders to do what they have not yet done - to look beyond the next three or six months, to the next two or three years. When America prepares, inevitably, to leave, what can we do to limit the damage that will follow our departure, not just for Iraq's sake but for our own? White House officials are determined to present the surge as a dramatic turn in the war - as if the war could still be won."


Le Monde 10.09.2007 (France)

Now that robots have artificial intelligence, should they also have rights? This issue, Le Monde reports, is being addressed by various scientific projects but also by interest groups in robot-producing countries. While the UK is mulling over questions of suffrage and tax liability and the USA is thinking about a possible equation with animals, the Japanese are taking a more pragmatic than ethical approach. South Korea on the other hand, Japan's biggest rival on the robot market, is due to release "ethical index for robots" some time this year. "The text is based on the principles formulated by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law."


Al Hayat 10.09.2007 (Lebanon)

Dalal al-Bizri addresses the rumour that for all its lunacy has been keeping the Egyptian media on its toes: that President Hosni Mubarak is dead. For al-Bizri this is characteristic of the "nebulous Kafkaesque climate" of the debates on the country's political future. "Suzan Mubarak is demanding that the origins of the rumour to be traced and that the people responsible be brought to account. The upper press council chaired by Sawfat al-Sharif has met to examine how the national (in other words government-friendly) and the independent press have dealt with the rumour. In other words, the Mubarak camp is retaliating. "If it they really were to find the source of the rumour – and I mean the real source and not just the people who used it and spread it – would this not mean an end to the transparency deficit and to political authoritarianism? A lack of transparency and political authoritarianism are the best breeding ground for rumours! Arabia is a land of speculation, ambiguity and impressions, a fertile ground for rumours of all kinds."


Il Foglio 08.09.2007 (Italy)

50 years later Siegmund Ginzberg returns here and here to Istanbul where he spent his childhood before his family moved to Italy. Most of his memories involve food. "The split sheep heads from the oven (in Istanbul they are roasted with potatoes in an open stove), the tripe soup with eggs, lemon and garlic and the raw lightly-salted mackerel. In Istanbul I even found better things in recent days: Kokorec made of sheep's intestines and Lakerda, the marinated tuna fish which you used to be able to get in tin cannisters on every street corner. My father used to bring it home with him, protectively packaged in yellow cardboard, with the essential half red onion. I cannot describe this flavour to the reader who has never tasted it, suffice it to say that it is the mother of all sushi and sashimi."


Die Weltwoche 06.09.2007 (Switzerland)

Mathias Plüss lists a number of unsolved scientific problems for the particularly brainy reader. The Collatz Conjecture for example is still unproven today. "In 1937 German mathematician Lothar Collatz published a problem which is still unsolved today. You pick any natural number. If it's even, you divide it by two; if it's odd you multiply by three and add 1. And you do the same with the result (divide by 2 or multiply by 3 and add 1). If you continue Collatz conjectured sooner or later you will arrive at 1."


Literaturen 05.09.2007 (Germany)

Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk gets a certain warped pleasure out of the Kaczynski twins. "I love all the play acting that the twins lay on for us. Before the eyes of the world they perform – with utter shamelessness you might say – all the drama and comedy of Polishness, mixed with the drama and comedy of power. Against a background of insider dealing, lukewarmness, pragmatism but also the correctness of the previous teams the twins are developing into real Shakespearean characters. One recognises immediately how they allow themselves be lead by strong emotions which in the interests of cool competition they try to curb."


Gazeta Wyborcza 08.09.2007 (Poland)

New elections have been called in Poland. Satirists have had a field day with the Kaczynskis, write Joanna Derkaczew and Dorota Jarecka but, they go on to ask, how deeply have the arts really dealt with the "Fourth Republic"? "Art in the times of the Kaczynski coalition has often failed to transcend the level of TV entertainment and Internet jokes. Many have got sucked into making facile jokes about the twins, but have gone no further that general slogans. A play with associations is enough." But however worrying the level might be, the question remains, "Will more enduring work emerge? Perhaps when politics is this spectacular, it renders theatre helpless."

The Economist 07.09.2007 (UK)

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's new book "A Secular Age" looks at how far - and how deep - the secularism of Western societies reaches. The magazine finds the book not an easy read, but very inspiring: "Mr Taylor accepts that the 'liberation' from clerical power (over thought and society) that occurred during the Enlightenment amounted to something real and legitimate. But he picks apart some crude versions of post-Enlightenment secularism. In some secularist accounts, he notes, religion is presented as an odd, temporary delusion into which mankind was unfortunate enough to fall for a brief moment. Once science had proved the falsehood of religious statements about the origins of the world, man could 'revert' to a more 'natural' way of thinking. Mr Taylor argues that a secular, scientific way of thinking is also a sort of existential choice, a particular moment in human development rather than a 'natural' state of affairs."


The Times Literary Supplement 07.09.2007 (UK)

Michael Caine is impressed by the book "It" by Yale Professor of Theatre Joseph Roach: "As Roach goes on to show, there is a great tradition of celebrities, martyrs, star performers, monarchs and others who have appeared in the public eye to have the gift of magnetism, charisma, sprezzatura, or what you will – each term carries its own particular historical charge. 'It', the subject of Roach’s book, is the ability to turn heads, regardless of acting talent, physical beauty, or any other more tangible accomplishment. But what is It exactly? Are you born with It, do you achieve It, or is It thrust upon you? To have 'It', the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes. He or she must be entirely unselfconscious and full of self-confidence.... Conceit or self-consciousness destroys 'It' immediately. In the animal world 'It' demonstrates [Itself] in tigers and cats – both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable."


Trouw 10.09.2007 (The Netherlands)

Germany has "Taliban Fritz," Holland has "Guerillera Tanja." The 29-year-old student Tanja Nijmeijer fights with the FARC guerilla forces in the jungles of Colombia, and has become a T-shirt icon in her home country. Now a video has also come out in which the young Dutchwoman complains of homesickness, yet is convinced she's "doing the right thing." What drives a young Western European to join a terror group? "Cock-eyed romanticism," writes Edwin Koopman, who quotes an expert on the FARC: "Europeans only cause problems. The FARC wants people used to the hard jungle life. Colombian students and academics who sympathise with the armed struggle stay in the cities and maintain contact to their families. They act as propagandists, organise solidarity events at universities or found 'humanitarian' organisations to collect foreign funding. In Colombia itself, jungle romanticism hardly exists. Because Colombians know the decision to join the FARC lasts a lifetime. Once you're in, you never come out."


Elet es Irodalom 07.09.2007 (Hungary)

The opera "The Emperor of Atlantis, or The Refusal of Death," created in Theresienstadt by the composer Viktor Ullmann, who was murdered in Auschwitz, is being staged for the first time in Hungary. In an interview, conductor Ivan Fischer talks about the composer and the production: "Numerous works were fated never to be written in the concentration camps. If the artistic geniuses among the six million victims, and the talents among their unborn children and grandchildren had survived, art and culture in the 20th century could have developed entirely differently." But he emphasises: "First and foremost, this opera is a masterpiece. Even if it had nothing to do with the Holocaust or the curious cultural life in Theresienstadt, it would still deserve to be performed. The production can be interpreted as a commemoration to the victims, but for me it's rather a celebration of the fact that although many works were destroyed in the conflagration, this one was saved."


Figyelö 06.09.2007 (Hungary)

Alongside several exquisite wines, Hungary also produces many unpalatable ones. What's missing is a broad middle category. And that's just what's missing in the country's society as well, writes Imre Tompa. "Every reasonable society has a middle class. Here in Hungary the so-called middle class was made up of aspiring aristocrats and civil servants before World War II, by oppressed intellectuals during Communism and tax-evading small businessmen after the system change. Today's middle class is very heterogeneous, composed of successful entrepreneurs, well-educated, cosmopolitan young people, the government-dependent quasi-citizens typical of post-socialist countries, stick-in-the-mud intellectuals who still blush at the thought of capitalism, and down-and-out descendants of the former lesser nobility. The anti-Semitism and other chimeras of the latter lend this poor wine a despicable after-taste. Way down at the bottom lie unidentifiable, dark dregs."


The Guardian 08.09.2007 (UK)

Ryunosuke Akutagawa, a celebrated early 20th century Japanese writer, killed himself at just 35. The fault lay with his crazy mother and the future, writes David Peace in a portrait. "July 23 1927 was a day of record heat in Tokyo. Akutagawa, however, seemed unbothered by the heat and joked with his children over lunch. Throughout the afternoon and early evening he received the usual stream of visitors eager to speak with one of the leading writers of the day. After dinner, he finished 'Man of the West,' his essay on Christ as a poet. He then began to write a considered and lengthy letter to Kume, entitled 'A Note to an Old Friend,' explaining what he was about to do. In this letter, Akutagawa describes his meticulous plans for suicide; he had rejected drowning because he was a strong swimmer, death by hanging because it was unsightly. Having decided on drugs, he had then read extensively on toxicology. Finally, he gives his actual reason for suicide as a 'vague anxiety about my future'."


The Spectator 08.09.2007 (UK)

Richard Orange has visited the dry expanses of Shekhawati in the Indian province of Rajasthan, where steel king Lakshi Mittal grew up. "This small area, where it is a struggle to produce basic foods, has an extraordinary ability to produce billionaires. For more than a hundred years the local trading class, the Marwari Seth, have shown an unerring talent for amassing riches. Four out of the top ten Indian billionaires in the Forbes rich list for 2007 were Marwari. An hour's bumpy ride to the south-east of Rajgarh is Pilani, home of the Birla family, whose richest member Kumar Mangalam Birla ranks seventh of the ten. To the south west is Ramgarh, the home of Shashi and Ravi Ruia, whose steel, oil and shipping business ranks in eighth place. Lakshmi Mittal's namesake Sunil Mittal, founder of the telecoms and supermarket group Bharti Enterprises, is in sixth place."
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