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12/03/2008

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | Mediapart | Gazeta Wyborcza | Caffe Europa | Vanity Fair | The Economist | L'Espresso | Expert Sibir | The New York Times

The New York Review of Books 20.03.2008 (USA)

Novelist Nicholson Baker is so taken with the charms of Wikipedia that his hymn of praise even extends to the vandals who wreak destruction on the more erudite entries. "It's a game. Wikipedians see vandalism as a problem, and it certainly can be, but a Diogenes-minded observer would submit that Wikipedia would never have been the prodigious success it has been without its demons.This is a reference book that can suddenly go nasty on you. Who knows whether, when you look up Harvard's one-time warrior-president, James Bryant Conant, you're going to get a bland, evenhanded article about him, or whether the whole page will read (as it did for seventeen minutes on April 26, 2006): "HES A BIG STUPID HEAD." James Conant was, after all, in some important ways, a big stupid head. He was studiously anti-Semitic, a strong believer in wonder-weapons—a man who was quite as happy figuring out new ways to kill people as he was administering a great university. Without the kooks and the insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead it's a fast-paced game of paintball."

Further articles cover Alan Greenspan's memoirs "The Age of Turbulence" and Peter Carey's little book "His Illegal Self" ("little," writes Cathleen Schine "only in the way that raspberries or bees or nuggets of uranium are little").

Mediapart 10.03.2008 (France)

March 16 sees the launch of the new online daily newspaper Mediapart. Under the aegis of the former editor in chief of Le Monde, Edwy Plenel, this is a project that will be financed solely by online subscriptions of its readers. Only time will tell if the concept will work. On the current "projet" page, Plenel provides a brief overview of the background, personnel and plans, and explains why they agreed on this particular form of financing. "Let's make one thing clear: Mediapart is a journalist paper whose capital is controlled by its founding team, which itself consists overwhelmingly of journalists. Without wanting to point any fingers, we would simply like to emphasise that in the current landscape of daily newspapers, this sort of structural economic independence is exceedingly rare."

Gazeta Wyborcza 08.03.2008 (Poland)

Last weekend Poland was talking about nothing but the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw student protests, their suppression by the communist regime and the brutal anti-Semitic and anti-intellectual campaign that followed. Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza and at the time one of the driving forces behind the demonstrations, tells Jacek Zakowski in an interview how this "March experience" affected him. "I never wanted to be a politician but the historic constellation forced me into it. And all it all happened because I wanted to live in a free, democratic Poland, among honest people and friends, and fight together with them for values close to my heart. In March 1968 I saw that this wasn't going to happen without politics. So I did what I had to do and as well as I could. Nothing more. That March influenced the next 40 years of my life."


Caffe Europa 09.03.2008 (Italy)

From 1909 to 1926 the monthly magazine Lucciola ("little glow worm" or "street girl") was a shining beacon of early feminism in what was then a strongly rural and Catholic Italy, as Francesco Roat reports. "Each edition, printed in a stylish font, put together almost entirely by women (although men did contribute) all writing under pseudonyms, was a 300-page magazine, filled with drawings, photographs, prints, sketches, maps and even embroidery. Lucciola also offered a comprehensive literary and cultural section. There was reportage and a section called "Referendum" which featured debates about fashion, socio-cultural values and politics – or another titled 'Street Girl Book Recommendations' which naturally not only dealt with romantic novels."

Vanity Fair 01.04.2008 (USA)

In a thoroughly researched report David Rose describes how the U.S. government's arms dealings with Fatah-friendly brigades in Gaza turned into a "yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs". "Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America's behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)"


The Economist 08.03.2008 (UK)

The cover title asks "What's holding India back?" and provides the answer in the leading and one further article: its bloated civil service. "Indeed, all India's administration is inefficient. According to the Congress-led government's own estimate, most development spending fails to reach its intended recipients. Instead it is sponged up, or siphoned off, by a vast, tumorous bureaucracy. That is why, despite India's commitment to universal health care, water and education, only five countries have a lower portion of health spending in the public sector; over half of urban children are educated privately; and nearly all investment in irrigation is private."

Further articles: A technology supplement deals primarily with the bitter conflict over the future of Wikipedia between "inclusionists", who believe that applying strict editorial criteria will dampen contributors' enthusiasm for the project, and "deletionists" who argue that Wikipedia should be more cautious and selective about its entries. Another article outlines research into maximising online readership which could rationalise normally instinctive editorial choices about the placement of articles on websites. The reviews cover an exhibition of late Titian paintings in Venice, Michael Burleigh's "disappointing" book "Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism" and Michio Kaku's popular science study on the "Physics of the Impossible" which informs us that aside from perpetual-motion machines and clairvoyance, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.


L'Espresso 07.03.2008 (Italy)

Umberto Eco remembers cultural historian Piero Camporesi, a colleague of his at the University of Bologna who died ten years ago. Camporesi published widely on sensuousness and food in the Middle Ages. Eco quotes from one of his essays about cheese, which clearly had a stinking reputation in the Middle Ages. "For centuries popular opinion had it that the badness living inside the cheese, its "diabolicalness" was manifested in and announced by its smell, a smell which most people felt was disgusting and vile. After all it was made of dying matter, it was in a state of decay, shrivelled and rotten, a putrefying substance, harmful to health and bodily fluids. Won from the part of the milk that was separated off, the harmful scoriae, curdled from the worst part, the sludgy and earthy part of the white liquid. The unification of the most base substances, the opposite of butter which comes from the better, purer part of the milk. Cheese is nothing but a 'res foeda, graveolens, immunda, putridaque'. Food for the poor. Nothing for the better off and worthy citizen. Nutrition, in a nutshell, for tramps and vagrants who live off dirt."


Expert Sibir 03.03.2008 (Russia)

"In the early nineties, the Siberian art market was one of the most lively in Russia. But this all changed with the [Rouble] crash in 1998," writes journalist Sofia Goldberg. In her article "Unsaleable art" Goldberg talks to several Siberian gallerists about the situation of the art market in one of Russia's wealthiest regions. Despite the enormous potential, the art scene here, several thousand kilometres outside Moscow, is extremely underdeveloped. "To secure the survival of the galleries, gallerists are either dependent on patrons or income from other non-art-related jobs. In their work the galleries follow the principles of the traditional salon." The reasons for the art market slump in Siberia, Goldberg writes, "are not only the lack of capital or interest in contemporary art; the gallerists, who see their mission as bearers of culture, are unaware that works of art can be profitable."


The New York Times 10.03.2008 (USA)

The New York Times magazine has an interesting dossier on the new philanthropy. James Taub's opening article focusses on the charitable activities of greater and lesser American celebrities, around whom an entire industry has sprouted up. "Just as stars have philanthropic managers to help them with causes, corporations with a cause can turn to celebrity recruiters to find just the right star. Thus Rita Tateel, who describes her occupation as recruiting and coordinating celebrities for 'cause-related marketing and public relations,' recently hooked up Purina, which wanted to support 'small animal-rescue organizations,' with Emily Procter, a star of 'CSI Miami,' who, Tateel says, 'lives and breathes animal rescue.'"

Elsewhere in the dossier, Joe Nocera portrays the billionaire couple Herb and Marion Sandler who commissioned Washington Post journalist Paul Steiger to found ProPublica, a non-profit-organisation for funding investigative journalism.
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