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01/04/2008

Magazine Roundup

Blätter | Wired | Nepszabadsag | Merkur | Die Weltwoche | The Economist | The Spectator | Literaturen | The New Statesman | La vie des idees | The New Republic | Caffe Europa | Edge.org


Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 01.04.2008 (Germany)

In an article on the "Dialectics of Secularisation," Jürgen Habermas makes a lengthy contribution to the debate launched by signandsight.com and Perlentaucher on Islam in Europe. Habermas sides with neither the 'secularists' nor the 'multiculturalists,' but he does approve of the secularists' "insisting energetically on the absolute essentialness of equal inclusion of all citizens in civil society. ... Religious citizens and religious communities should not only assimilate on the surface level. They must embrace the secular legitimation of the community within the premises of their own belief." But Habermas also demands that the secular side engages in a learning process. One of his arguments: "The democratic state (should) avoid rushing to reduce the polyphonic complexity of the spectrum of public voices because it cannot be certain that this might not sever society from the meagre resources that generate meaning and identity.



Wired 16.04.2008 (USA)

It can't take much longer, the untiring inventor Ray Kurzweil declares in a large Wired portrait, before we reach the border of what he terms biological "singularity" or immortality thanks to the deployment of tiny robots and artificial intelligence. So the most important thing for the sixty-year old Kurzweil is to make it to the border. "Kurzweil does not believe in half measures. He takes 180 to 210 vitamin and mineral supplements a day, so many that he doesn't have time to organize them all himself. So he's hired a pill wrangler, who takes them out of their bottles and sorts them into daily doses, which he carries everywhere in plastic bags. Kurzweil also spends one day a week at a medical clinic, receiving intravenous longevity treatments. The reason for his focus on optimal health should be obvious: If the singularity is going to render humans immortal by the middle of this century, it would be a shame to die in the interim. To perish of a heart attack just before the singularity occurred would not only be sad for all the ordinary reasons, it would also be tragically bad luck, like being the last soldier shot down on the Western Front moments before the armistice was proclaimed."

Below is Kurzweil's formula for the acceleration in the growth of world knowledge necessary for enabling this singular progress:




Nepszabadsag 22.03.2008 (Hungary)

In a referendum held on March 9th, the Hungarians voted against the medical and education charges introduced last year by the social-liberal Gyurcsany government. A concerned Laszlo Lengyel takes the pulse of his country. "Do people pity Hungary? Are people tiptoeing about in its presence? Is it being moved to another room, at the end of the corridor? Is it lying there alone between suspended sheets? The efficiency of the country is being discussed in the weightiest of terms – not by among Hungarian voters but also among the world's politicians. The economy is never even mentioned any more. The will of the people has questioned the competence of a government which, since the end of the Cold War, has been monopolised by the left in Hungary – something even the right has admitted. The Gyurcsany government has lost all credibility. But even as voters lose their confidence in Gyurcsany they fear for the competence of the other side. The right, which until now has done everything in its power to destroy the governability of the country? Is Viktor Orban, who was capable of paralysing the body, able to rule it? Can half the body, that of society, recover and come back to life again? No. A series of failed operations and quackish incantations have not helped. The body is laid out unconscious."

Writer György Konrad replies to the historian Arpad Pünkösti's question of whether he regrets anything in his life: "Not words or deeds, but a number of absences. Writing also entails isolation, you retreat from the people who are close to you. I do not regret fundamental decisions. But I have given too much time to stupid political issues such as censorship and dictatorship or neo-Nazi nonsense today. I have tried to understand the issues at stake. In civil, intellectual self-defence, I have wrestled with truisms."



Merkur 01.04.2008 (Germany)

There was a time when a number of Helge Schneider songs meant just as much to me as the great Mozart Arias," remembers Jens Hagestedt in an essay on the difference between entertaining and serious music. "Is says nothing against good pop music that it cannot satisfy the highest claims to truth. But what do you say to the excess of rubbish whose dominance even the most tolerant listener could never deny?" On the other hand, those with only the utmost contempt for popular music can look pretty foolish too, as Hagestedt shows. "In 1933 Adorno wrote a highly compromising text (that fortunately was never published) to encourage those in charge of the then 'streamlined' radio of the German dictatorship to use their powers to put an end 'once and for all' to what was rather indelicately referred to as 'Schlager' (German pop music 'hits') and to 'sweep such spookily alienated musical products from their programmes."

Further articles: Burkhard Müller writes about Kafka's fables. Ulrike Ackermann casts an unbelieving eye at the Islam debate and is amazed "at how far western self-doubts has spread."



Die Weltwoche 31.03.2008 (Switzerland)

Niko Apel has made a film about the female Iranian rally champion and dentist Sonbol Fatemi. In Paris she talked to Urs Gehriger about her divorce, her profession, her complicated relationship with her parents and her greatest fear: "That I might be wrong about God. This would be absolutely dreadful. I constantly feel that God is close by, keeping me company. I feel him always. There is no greater fear than that this feeling might be wrong. That you have always have something to lean on until one day you realise that there has been nothing there all along. All my life I have I lived in a world where people say: "If you don't live by the rules you will be punished! And even if I don't really believe in these rules, I have a nagging doubt deep inside me: what if they are right?"



The Economist 28.03.2008 (UK)

The Economist commissioned a survey into a range of political, social and economic issues to find out the extent of the common ground between the USA and the UK – and was somewhat taken aback by how little there was."Gone are the days when it was British politics that embraced political extremes and Americans looked on bemused. The gap between Republicans and Democrats is almost always far greater than that between Tories and (usually) Liberal Democrats. And that is another interesting discovery: Lib Dem supporters are to the left of Labour on every broad category except the role of the state. Such nuggets abound. Americans have a wider anti-big-business streak. Britons are cooler on multiculturalism (perhaps because they see more of it at home). Britons are more willing than Americans to curb civil liberties in pursuit of security. Americans are less keen not only on the United Nations (no surprise) but also on NATO - and more enthusiastic about the 'special relationship' with Britain. (Here the results in full as a pdf)



The Spectator 28.03.2008 (UK)

With his latest book "On God," Norman Mailer has finally taken on a subject big enough to satisfy his own titanic ego, Roger Lewis quips. "The literary life being not really manly, Mailer went in for silly brawls and contests, knocking himself unconscious if nobody else could be bothered to enter the ring. In On God, however, he talks with such confidence about ineffable matters that cannot ever be proved, his soulmate isn't Richard Burton or even Oliver Reed, but former Priestess at the Court of Tutankhamen and fabled Lost City of Atlantis resident, hippy-dippy Shirley MacLaine."

Rod Liddle maintains: "I know why the government wants to send homosexuals back to Iran to be hanged."



Literaturen 28.03.2008 (Germany)

The focus of the April issue is the terrible anti-Semite, Crown Jurist of the Third Reich and brilliant thinker Carl Schmitt. Available online is Micha Brumlik's review of a new Schmitt biography by Christian Linder. The author's belief in a "secret" at the heart of the work and the person allows him to be taken in unnecessarily but this does not detract from the book's interest, Brumlik writes. "Christian Linder has kept quiet about almost nothing when it comes to the cause scandaleuse of this life, and for anyone who knows little or nothing about Carl Schmitt, the book and its skilful montage of extensive quotations will provide an indepth insight. Linder's significant talents as a radio playwright are brought to bear in a gripping dialogue interwoven from the antagonistic voices of and about Schmitt. His book replaces entire libraries of literature that are difficult to access."



The New Statesman 27.03.2008 (UK)

Art in China will stagnate, writes Chinese author Xiaolu Guo, after visiting the "China Design Now" exhibition in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, if it continues to repress communism and embrace consumerism. "'Innocent' people always argue that art can and should be immune from political and historical shadows, and that is also how we Chinese used to value a good piece of art. But when I stood in front of the video clips from Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (also on display at the V&A exhibition), I understood the main point as being Maggie Cheung's exotic qipao dress. As I walked away from the melancholy soundtrack of the film, I wondered: in this day and age, can commercial advertising become the main art form of a whole nation? If so, then China is that nation."



La vie des idees 28.03.2008 (France)

In a footnote-filled article, philosopher Philippe Lacour examines the role of scientific evaluation at Wikipedia. The development of Wikipedia supports a logic of fragmentation and re-assemblage of knowledge and digital content which undoubtedly herald a new form of intellectual life. "Which is why the encyclopaedia Wikipedia is less important per se than for the principles it illustrates. Simultaneous writing, simple language, moldability and the ability of the product to be developed further. (...) Despite the banality of many of the spontaneous virtual products on the net, we can see the originality of the intellectual character being created here: at once engaged and critical (Satre), specific (Foucault), collective (Bourdieu) and virtual – a true DJ of digital knowledge."



The New Republic 09.04.2008 (USA)

The battle for the Democratic presidential candidacy is also taking place at Wikipedia, reports Eve Fairbanks where it can happen that a Clinton photo is exchanged for that of a walrus or that Obama is suddenly described as a "Kenyan-American politician." But such things are rapidly put to rights. Fairbanks has tracked down a guardian angel who protects all Wiki articles on Hillary Clinton. Jonathan Schilling is a programmer from New Jersey: "Schilling is the man who protects Hillary's online self from the public's hatred. He estimates that he spends up to 15 hours per week editing Wikipedia under the name 'Wasted Time R'- much of it, these days, standing watch over Hillary's page. Hardly a news event or argument over her situation goes by without Wasted Time R's input: He edited her page 77 times in the last month, mostly pruning away changes he viewed as inappropriate." You constantly have to police [the page]," he says, recalling the way Rudy Giuliani's Wikipedia article declined in quality after its protectors lost interest. "Otherwise, it diverts into a state of nature."



Caffe Europa 13.03.2008 (Italy)

1886 saw the publication of Edmondo de Amici's book for young readers "Cuore", the diary of a ten-year-old set at the time of Italian unification. It propelled Amici to fame and ever since he has been known in Italy as the conservative "Father of the Fatherland." A great misunderstanding according to David Bidussa, because in later years the failed soldier and celebrated writer went on to embrace socialism. "In the collective consciousness De Amici represents traditional Italy. But this is actually far from the truth. He was a socialist and a friend of Filippo Turanti, also in the months after the imprisonment that followed the Bava Beccarsis massacre in Milan in May 1898 (the reaction to the 'revolt of the stomach') when many distanced themselves from the movement. He was a member of the 'Critica sociale' and the 'La Lotta di Classe,' in the years when the socialist party was still seen as dangerous."



Edge.org 13.03.2008 (USA)

The evolutionary biologist Iain Couzin reports on his research into the collective behaviour of ants and other insects. Often very simple behavioural algorithms lead to apparently complex collective movements as Couzain illustrates using the example of the mormon crickets which are normally considered vegetarian. "When they run short of protein or salt ... they start trying to bite the other individuals, and they have evolved to have really big aggressive jaws and armor plating over themselves, but the one area you can't defend is the rear end of the individual - it has to defecate, there has to be a hole there - and so they tend to specifically bite the rear end of individuals. It is the sight of others approaching and this biting behavior that causes individuals to move away from those coming towards them. This need to eat other individuals means you are attracted to individuals moving away from you, and so this simple algorithm essentially means the whole swarm starts moving as a collective."
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