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27/05/2008

Magazine Roundup

Literaturen | Wired | Nepszabadsag | Caffe Europa | Tygodnik Powszechny | The New Yorker | Outlook India | Die Weltwoche | The New York Review of Books | The Economist | World Affairs | The Times Literary Supplement | Elet es Irodalom | New Humanist
Literaturen 01.06.2008 (Germany)

This edition focusses on Franz Kafka whose 125th birthday is this year. US writer Louis Begley writes about the relationship between Kafka's life and writing. The only text available online is an introductory text by Sigrid Löffler who explains the approach of Kafka's biographer Reiner Stach. "Rainer Stach introduced a vertical dimension to the already existing horizontal one – and this proves extremely fertile from a biographical point of view: 'The richness of Kafka's existence essentially unfolded on a psychological plane, in the invisible, in a vertical dimension.' He claims that Kafka was preoccupied with the form his life should take. And that he eventually found this ascetic form in the conscious abstinence from every vital participation in the dance of life's juices and energies."

Wired 26.05.2008 (USA)

Lisa Katayama introduces Hiroyuki Nishimura, one of Japan's most successful and unusual internet entrepeneurs: a slacker whose ugly lo-res bullentin board service 2channel has 500 million page reviews a month, and who video website Nico Nico Douga, where the users can plaster their commentaries on top of the videos, has double this. Katayama explains the specifically Japanese secret of his success. "What was innovative about 2channel was its openness. Nishimura read the air and realized that what Japan needed was an outlet for unfettered expression. On 2channel, anyone can start a thread and anyone can post — there's no need to register or log in and no Web handles. There are no censors, no filters, no age verification, no voting systems that boost one thread or comment over another. 'I created a free space, and what people did with it was up to them. No major corporations were offering anything like that, so I had to.' The people of Japan who pass each other wordlessly on the way to work each day suddenly realized they had a lot to talk about. They could argue, berate, complain, insult, opine, free-associate, joke around, and revel in their ability to entertain one other as a completely anonymous collective.

Further articles: Evan Ratcliff took off to the Brasilian jungle to talk to biologist Marc van Roosmalen who faces 14 years imprisonment for biopiracy and has no qualms about swimming in Anaconda-infested waters. What emerges is a portrait of a problematic rebel and an even more problematic set of anti-biopiracy laws.


Nepszabadsag 26.05.2008 (Hungary)

The law can sanction openly racist comments. But what do you do when a turn of phrase which operates as coded racism gets public currency asks writer Rudolf Ungvary: "The democratic legal system offers no protection against racist opinions which require decoding, however intimidating they may be. It's impossible to formulate laws fine enough. Parliamentary democracy can only be protected by the law in a society where the majority of the population are democrats. This also means that the intentions of the jurisdictional regulation, which by comparison with the richness of the natural language and the large numbers of sly accusations, are necessarily rough and sketchy, will be interpreted broadly enough by the majority of the population. The people as a whole protects democracy on the basis of its political culture. (...) Covert racism and indirect intimidation cannot, even in a weak democracy like Hungary, be sanctioned without curbing freedom of expression and with it democracy itself. The question is whether it is possible in Hungary today to find a balance between enforcing the rights of freedom and combating intimidation, without compromising parliamentary democracy and the political crop rotation between Left and Right?"


Caffe Europa 26.05.2008 (Italy)

Nando Sigona of the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford describes the xenophobic maelstrom which is sweeping Italy. "In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Gianfranco Fini (the president of the chamber of deputies) describes the Roma as a 'community that is impossible to integrate into our society', persons 'who believe theft is almost permissable and not reprehensible, who let their wives do the work, prostitution probably, and who have no scruples about raping children or only having children to send them out begging.' Fini believes that previous regulations are too weak and that between two hundred and 250,000 people should be deported from the country. Now the suggestion has come from the ranks of the Liga Nord that these measures should be extended to the entire immigration question. Umberto Bossi explained on the pages of La Padania: ' Now everybody is talking about the Roma and Romania and all eyes are fixed on them. And people forget that there are all sorts of other immigrants with all the problems they bring. It is not only the Roma who are causing this country problems."

Further articles: Alessandro Simoni blames the Prodi government for the immigrant-hostile climate. Alessandro Lanni meets Catholic priest Virginio Colmegna, who is caring for immigrants in need.


Tygodnik Powszechny 25.05.2008 (Poland)

I am often told at authors' readings that I am the last Romantic. That sounds like a compliment to me." After a good twenty years Polish writer Eustachy Rylski made a comeback in 2005 with a historical novel about the old Poland. In an interview he speaks about the good old days of solid values but admits: "Sometimes it is better not to have roots. Being aware of one's own identity does not necessarily make life easier. But the tradition of the Polish landed gentry is the only one worth referring to. It is the not the best, but the best available."

Further articles: Anita Piotrowska reports from documentary film festival "Planete Doc Review" and Joanna Jopek searches in Krakow's "Photomonth" for the truth and meaning of photography.


The New Yorker 02.06.2008 (USA)

Lawrence Wright profiles Sayyid Imam al-Sharif alias Dr. Fadl, former leader of the Egyptian terror group Al Jihad and al-Qaeda mentor who, in his new book "Rationalizing Jihad" renounces violence. "The premise that opens 'Rationalizing Jihad' is 'There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.' Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation."


Outlook India 02.06.2008 (India)

Middle-class Indian women are increasingly turning to drink, as Shruti Ravindran reports: "Fuelled with their new financial independence and the increasing social tolerance of women's drinking, more urban women are drinking than before. They might begin their drinking careers with innocuous-tasting Baileys and breezers; comforting and sweet confections which, nevertheless, contain hard spirits. But they soon move on to undisguised and unabashedly stiffer drinks—whisky, vodka, gin. (...) It's a world where the spectacle of a tipsy woman tottering on high heels isn't confined to a Bollywood allegory of fallen virtue, but a sight so common now that it no longer raises an eyebrow. Where girls nursing pounding hangovers outdo one another with tales of how cataclysmically 'wasted' they got the previous night."

Further articles: Anvar Alikhan briefly puts his nose into the original "German Bakery" in India's spiritual heartland, which was founded 21 years ago by a German hippy called Klaus Gutzeit – alias "Woody Pumpernickel".


Die Weltwoche 22.05.2008 (Switzerland)

A video by Parisian electro duo Justice has shocked the French press. Directed by Romain Gavras, the son of Constantin Costa-Gavras, it shows a gang of hoodies from the banlieues marauding across Paris. Stefan Brändle decided to look was all the fuss was about: "Violence is the means and the end and this ups the disturbing effect. The braying beat sends us into the heads of these youths who, wound up like metal springs, run through the backstreets like hunted men, venting steam on anything that crosses their path. Unlike the banlieues film 'La Haine' from ten years ago (when the casseurs were significantly older), Gavras doesn't take their side. The 'Stress' video does not take a stand. It doesn't explain anything, it shows. It shows the victims, the perpetrators, the onlookers, the police. But it doesn't judge; it doesn't exaggerate and it certainly doesn't sugarcoat; it doen't play down the violence nor does it celebrate it. Instead the video reveals something that is commonly overlooked: that these young kids, who don't even have the beginnings of facial hair, no longer have a threshold of inhibition.


The New York Review of Books 12.06.2008 (USA)
Robert Danton, head of the Harvard library, looks at the great revolutions of information technology – the invention of writing, the codex, the printing press and the Internet, and can't agree that we live in a time of unprecedented masses of unreliable information: "I would argue that news has always been an artifact and that it never corresponded exactly to what actually happened. We take today's front page as a mirror of yesterday's events, but it was made up yesterday evening - literally, by 'make-up' editors, who designed page one according to arbitrary conventions: lead story on the far right column, off-lead on the left, soft news inside or below the fold, features set off by special kinds of headlines. Typographical design orients the reader and shapes the meaning of the news. News itself takes the form of narratives composed by professionals according to conventions that they picked up in the course of their training - the 'inverted pyramid' mode of exposition, the 'color' lead, the code for 'high' and 'the highest' sources, and so on. News is not what happened but a story about what happened."


The Economist 23.05.2008 (UK)

It's the end of an era in Hongkong. The Shaw Brothers Imperium, a giant TV network which is still run by the 100-year-old Sir Run Run Shaw, looks as if it's about to be sold for ever. The Economist looks back to its time as a film studio: "In his heyday from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, Sir Run Run turned one of his companies, Shaw Brothers, into the world's most productive film studio. In its vast Movie Town, in Hong Kong's then sparsely settled New Territories, stars and stage hands alike lived in dormitories, ate at a central canteen and made movies day and night. Many of the films that came out of this brutally efficient celluloid assembly line - particularly those involving kung-fu, sword fighting and triads - gained cult status around the world." (More here too)

There's a review of the study "Fatal Misconception" in which historian Matthew Connelly takes a critical look at the history of birth control in the 20th century. "All too easily arrogance slides into inhumanity. Much of the evil done in the name of slowing population growth had its roots in an uneasy coalition between feminists, humanitarians and environmentalists, who wished to help the unwillingly fecund, and the racists, eugenicists and militarists who wished to see particular patterns of reproduction, regardless of the desires of those involved."

Further reviews cover Fareed Zakaria's book on "The Post-American World" and David Y. Price's story about the animation film pioneers Pixar.


World Affairs 23.05.2008 (USA)

Jacob Heilbrun tells the (American) story of 20th century ideologies as a history of political rank-breakers - from Arthur Koestler to Christopher Hitchens. It is, he leaves no doubt about this, a history in decline. "With lifelong fights over changes of position, charges of intellectual treason, and tortured explanations to rationalize the party line, the political was personal in the 1930s and 1940s in a way it never was during the 1960s. But in recent years something has changed. Those who've set up shop as public intellectuals, with their keen sense of how high-stakes arguments were waged in the past and their equally keen appreciation for the role figures such as George Orwell played in those debates, have tended to be referential and self-referential in positioning themselves for maximum effect. Rather than the hard and solitary work of writing and thinking and achieving an output that far overshadowed their public presence, today's intellectuals often succumb to celebrity culture, shouting on FOX News and MSNBC rather than arguing their ideas in books or in the pages of magazines."

The Times Literary Supplement 23.05.2008 (UK)

A.N.Wilson defends Patrick French's V.S. Naipaul biography "The World is what it is": "Yet reactions to it have been adverse - and principally, it seems, because critics have struggled to find in the great writer the material for a cliched idea of an ideal husband. How could such a masterly writer turn out to be such a monster? No doubt it is upsetting when Naipaul admits to French a scene of terrible violence with his Argentinian mistress, Margaret Gooding, during which - having discovered that she had been unfaithful to him, 'I was very violent with her for two days; I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt . . . . She didn't mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her'. She stayed with him for a quarter of a century. No doubt Naipaul wanted this told - the violence and the infidelity."

Carlin Romano introduces two books which deal with the "purely coincidental" freedom of the internet. In "The Future of Reputation" Daniel J. Solove fears that gossip and slander will be spread via the internet throughout the world and be saved for all time. In "The Future of the Internet" Jonathan Zittrain fears in that spam and viruses will send us running into the brave new world of corporate controlled iPods, iPhones, Xboxes and TiVos.

Elet es Irodalom 23.05.2008 (Hungary)

Hungarian intellectuals are often called upon to shoulder more reponsibility to help get the country out of its current political crisis. Writer Ivan Sandor thinks it would makes more sense to look into why this sort of responsibility has often been in vain. Because while the political and intellectual elites of the 19th century were often more or less identical, in the 20th century, the ranks of ignored, persecuted or emigrated intellectuals are very very long: "People say that the facility for (historical) self-knowledge has been missing for some time now, and I agree. It there another way of approaching this dilemma? Does insight always follow self-knowledge? Or could this knowledge not lead us to understand that in the 20th century there was neither the power nor the will to stop the decline? Could it not show that humans perpetuate the things they are involved in, what they shape, (and not only suffer) – because in a historical-evolutionary sense, they cannot change? There are also countries where change is possible."

From last week's edition: In autumn 1968 the Prague film student Pavel Schnabel fled to Germany, where he became a prominent documentary filmmaker. He spoke in an interview with Zoltan Szalai about the experience of leaving Prague in 1968 only to land in the European student movements of 1968. "Imagine leaving a country because you don't want to hear anything more about politics and communism – and then you meet a load of complete strangers in another country who are working to trigger off a revolution throughout society. Over the long period I spent with them, the question kept cropping up with increasing regularity as to what I thought about the Western '68 and why I had left Czechoslovakia. After a while I started demonstrating with them and took part in a number of 'sit ins' - one of them against the Springer group. They, like me, had to understand that had not left Czechoslovakia because of the sort of socialism that they were fighting for, and that they didn't want to implement the sort of communism from which I had fled. I had to recognise that the former West Germany was a better vessel for the ideals of socialism than Czechoslovakia."


New Humanist 01.05.2008 (USA)

Darwin's theory of evolution is increasingly coming under fire in Europe, writes Danish philosophy professor Peter C. Kjärgaard with reference to a EU report. Now that Muslim Creationists are starting to get as loud as their Christian counterparts, Kjärgaard expects the two camps to enter a strategic cooperation soon. "The central figure here is the Turkish Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar, who, writing under the pen name Harun Yahya, has made a career out of attacking Darwinian evolution. Oktar is a figure fairly well known to Darwinists and despite his claims to scientific competence is clearly little more than a crank. However what had changed, according to the report, was the scale and ambition of Oktar's pseudo-scientific message. Since 2006 copies of a substantial, glossy and smartly packaged book called Atlas of Creation, credited to Harun Yahya, had been arriving at schools and universities across Europe. In Spain, France, Switzerland and Denmark clear evidence of the growing resources and confidence of European Muslim creationism was thudding on to the mat. The book is the first of a projected seven-part series, and parts two and three have already begun arriving at educational institutes Europe-wide."
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