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19/08/2008

Magazine Roundup

Tygodnik Powszechny | The Economist | The Atlantic | Outlook India | Letras Libres | L'Espresso | The Times Literary Supplement | Rue89 | Portfolio | The New York Times | L'Express
Tygodnik Powszechny 17.08.2008 (Poland)

Writer Marek Nowakowski talks in an interview about his childhood in the Warsaw suburbs of Wlochy where he was happiest among petty criminals, about his dislike of elite literati circles and his strategy for accommodating communism. "You can find your niche in every society, not just in the totalitarian ones. I never considered emigration – and I wasn't bothered in the least when they wouldn't let me travel, I went off walking in the Carpathians instead. (...) I never thought about publication bans in apocalptic dimensions. And I never had the feeling that I was suffering for humanity. I took responsibility for everything I did, writing was my enclave of freedom. For better or for worse – in this area I was in control."

In another article Jussi Jalonen remembers Kaarlo Kurko, a Finish anti-Bolshevist who volunteered for the Polish army in 1920 to fight the Red Army, which was camped outside Warsaw at the time. Agnieszka Sabor praises an exhibition in Krakow of photographs taken in 1934 by the Polish Jew Wilhelm Ze'ev Aleksandrowicz during a journey through Japan. "The value of these pictures is not so much artistic – these are black and white snap shots that are both static and grainy. But they grasp this special, if familiar, fascinating and unbearable experience of the unbridgeable border to another culture, a border which forces us to separate "them" and "us".


The Economist 15.08.2008 (UK)

The Economist sees the sucess of a new TV satellite channel as symptomatic of a small economic boom in sub-Saharan Africa. "The region's economy is doing better than it has in decades, and many countries have a small emerging middle-class eager to spend their new wealth. That, at least, is the calculation of GTV, a satellite-television company created just over a year ago. So far it has signed up more than 100,000 customers in 20 countries—which, it reckons, translates into 1.25m regular viewers." Football has the highest viewing figures, particularly British Premier League games. "Besides sport, GTV also offers popular soaps, series and films from Hollywood, Nollywood (Nigeria's version of tinseltown) and other parts of Africa. It has added international news, religion and children's programmes to the mix."

Further articles cover the US poetry slam championship and, under the headline "The Germans are Coming", the triumphal procession of German discount stores in countries like France and Britain where supermarkets have long succeeded in keeping prices high. The reviews cover a book about the 2000-year history of the Jewish communitiy in Indian Kerala, and Ophelia Field's study of the "Kit-Cat Club", whose illustrious members include 18th century artists and intellectuals such as William Congreve or Spectator-founder Sir Richard Steele.


The Atlantic 01.09.2008 (USA)

The magazine features a dossier of fascinating insights into Hillary Clinton's failed run for presidency, which includes several internal documents that were provided with unusual openness by her campaign team. After reading through them Joshua Green gives a chronological breakdown of a completely unexpected defeat. He sums up: "Two things struck me right away. The first was that, outward appearances notwithstanding, the campaign prepared a clear strategy and did considerable planning. It sweated the large themes. ... The second was the thought: Wow, it was even worse than I'd imagined! The anger and toxic obsessions overwhelmed even the most reserved Beltway wise men."

No less fascinating is Lisa Margonelli's deep probe into the stomach of a termite – or more priecisely its third gut. This is the habitat of otherwise unknown microbe forms which can do things that humans need vast resources to achieve: they can transform wood into hydrogen. "Offer a termite this page, and its microbial helpers will break it down into two liters of hydrogen, enough to drive more than six miles in a fuel-cell car. If we could turn wood waste into fuel with even a fraction of the termite's efficiency, we could run our economy on sawdust, lawn clippings, and old magazines."

Further articles: With the help of four American experts Robert D. Kaplan describes the situation in Burma, and Christopher Hitchens reviews a volume of Norman Mailer's political reportage from 1968.


Outlook India 25.08.2008 (India)

"Singh is Kinng" the new film starring Akshay Kumar has just got off to a box-office busting weekend. It is time, writes Namrata Joshi, to start taking this star seriously, for although he is adored by the masses he is still ridiculed by the critics. The unusual thing about him is not just his success, his actual journey to stardom in what is otherwise a dynastically-controlled Bollywood is nothing short of spectacular. "He was born and brought up in Delhi ... went to Bangkok to learn martial arts and worked as a cook to support himself. He came back to become an instructor. A modelling assignment came to him out of the blue and he realised there was much more money in showbiz than in karate chops. The makeup artiste at the shoot forwarded his pictures to producer Pramod Chakravarty and he soon landed a role in the forgettable 'Saugandh'. From then on, it has been a slow but steady rise. He began as an action star, turned to comedies in the middle and now his films are a pastiche of stunts, jokes and romance. More than a hundred films later, at 40, he is easily the most bankable star in the industry."

In an interview Kumar vents his spleen about intellectual critics but is generally in high spirits. (Get a first impression of the man at YouTube.)


Letras Libres 17.08.2008 (Spain / Mexico)

Five years after the death of Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, Rafael Gumucio finds Latin American literature sadly lacking in combative voices: "Perhaps we should distrust all the sympathy and mutual back-patting among young Latin American writers. They might come from different countries and ethnicities but they are all of the same social class, they go to the same schools and post-graduate courses and they have the same fathers and friends. The critical mass of monsters needed to push literature forward will certainly not emerge from within their ranks. Nothing suggests that better books are born of peaceful times when critics cosset their writers. The history of literature tells another story: fierce differences between authors and between authors and critics are never just unpleasant episodes which reveal how awful people really are; they form the fertile ground which breeds good writing."


L'Espresso 14.08.2008 (Italy)

Umberto Eco is miserable in an Italy he feels has regressed to the dark ages of the forties: "I cannot claim that everything is like it used to be, certainly not one hundred percent. But it is slowly beginning to smell that way. First of all there are fascists in the government. Ok, they might not be full-blooded fascists, but Marx was right that history is tragedy the first time round and farce the second. In the forties, there were posters on the walls which showed a black American, repulsive (and drunk) who was stretching out his crooked hand towards a white Venus de Milo. Today TV shows the threatening faces of starving black people who are flooding our country in their thousands. As I see it, people today are even more frightened than they were back then."


The Times Literary Supplement 15.08.2008 (UK)

Charles King's story of the Caucasus, "The Ghost of Freedom", has come out at just the right time. Donald Rayfield can throughly recommend it, although he pinpoints one key chapter he feels is missing: "In a book dealing with 'the ghost of freedom' one would expect a more thorough exploration of the Caucasus's 'little Kosovos', where ethnic groups such as the Abkhaz and South Ossetians try to break away from a newly independent Georgia only to find themselves international pariahs, whose only refuge is a return to the Russian embrace. Here Putin's salami tactics for reincorporating lost Soviet territory meet with no adequate or even intelligent response by the principal victims, for instance the Georgians, or from the European Union and United States who have already tied themselves into knots over the former Yugoslavia, and can only wring their hands as they see Russia, with the help of its heavily armed 'peacekeepers', turning Abkhazia back into its own private recreation zone."

Toby Barnard was overjoyed to read "The Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland" which clearly shows what writers owe to places and how places are changed by literature. "Towns sometimes undeservedly become the focus of writers' revenge. Yet Slough was not without fault when Betjeman singled it out for bombing. "


Rue89 17.08.2008 (France)

Have the French become more racist in general or are they increasingly leaning towards political correctness? The annual census of the "Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme" (CNCDH) revealed that 48 percent of the populaion believe there are "too many immigrants in France", while a good 30 percent outrightly describe themselves as "racists". And racism no longer comes exclusively from the Right, but also from left-wing anti-colonialists and Islamic circles. Sociologist and anti-Semitism expert Michel Wieviorka warns: "Beware: you can bet that not all racists will out themselves in surveys like this. Which means that 30 percent is a low estimate. Just look at the polling results for the Front National. It is a crime these days to call yourself a racist, but it is not illegal to vote for the FN. Furthermore it is legitimate to vote for the far Right. In this respect, the Front National has achieved democratic legitimacy."


Portfolio 01.09.2008 (USA)

In a long article on the future of TV, Mark Harris writes a coroner's report for the three biggest TV stations, ABC, CBS and NBC. Cause of death: hard living and bad planning. "The evening newscasts have been mowed down by cable's heat, spin, and round-the-clock immediacy. In prime time, nobody watches reruns anymore - and reruns, along with syndication, used to be the only way comedy and drama series, the heart of a network's prime-time business, made money. Speaking of old-school, half-hour sitcoms: Once, 50 of them were on the air at a time. Today, they're all but gone. Suddenly, people just stopped liking them. Prime-time newsmagazines? Barely holding on. 'Protected' time slots? Viewers accustomed to Web surfing and channel flipping at hyperspeed aren't going to watch a new show just because they're too lazy to change the channel after 'The Biggest Loser'. The audience for daytime soaps, a profitable staple since TV's infancy, has shrunk so dramatically that the form may vanish within a few years. This is all very bad news for a medium that hasn't come up with a fresh format since 2000, when CBS launched the gold rush in reality-TV competitions with 'Survivor'."


The New York Times 17.08.2008 (USA)

Edward Lewine was in Saint Emilion in Bordeaux for the Sunday Magazine to find out more about the bitter row which has erupted over wine classification. In 2006 when the authorities changed the regulations, a number of chateaus lost the Grand Cru and promtly sued. Now everything is up in the air: "The controversy over the St.Emilion classification is a classic village squabble, but it is a village squabble with global implications. It is a fight over who has the authority to declare quality in the wine world, a clash between 19th-century agrarian tradition and 21st-century administrative law and a sign of the growing rift between the handful of superelite vineyards in Bordeaux and the less prestigious vineyards just beneath them. It may also signal the demise of Bordeaux's 150-year-old tradition of classification."


L'Express 13.08.2008 (France)

In a long interview, writer and former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, speaks about the Prague Spring, Europe and his favourite for the American presidential election. He also has clear words for Putin's Russia. "Putin has revealed himself as a new breed of dictator, a highly refined version. This is no longer about communism, or even pure nationalism. We must talk openly about it. We can no longer close our eyes. This completely private regime is tied, not surprisingly, to a specific economic boom. The collapse of the Soviet Union was traumatising, and Putin is out to reconstruct this ensemble, perhaps in a new form. He finds it very difficult to palate the shrinking sphere of influence of the old USSR. As a result, the system he has constructed is reliant on a form of political and economic fraternity. It is a closed system, in which the first person to break the rules of the game is packed off to Siberia."
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