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08/09/2008

Magazine Roundup

London Review of Books | The Economist | Przekroj | Gazeta Wyborcza | L'Espresso | El Pais Semanal | The New Yorker | Le Figaro | The Guardian | Der Spiegel | Nepszabadsag

London Review of Books 11.09.2008 (UK)

In an edition which is heavy with politics, Ross McKibbin wonders what went wrong with New Labour and why. One of the factors he mentions, however, is the current malaise of party politics in general: Today's politicians are "'good at politics' – which means being good at the mechanics of politics, not necessarily at its ideas. The consequence is that the mechanics drives out the ideas, and the immediate expels the long-term. Politics is what the Daily Mail says today; the long-term is what the Daily Mail might say tomorrow. The crucial relationship now is between the politician, the journalist and the 'adviser'."


The Economist 08.09.2008 (UK)

In a special section on technology we learn that the future of the internet lies in developing coutries - where it will free itself from the computer: "This year China overtook America as the country with the largest number of internet users - currently over 250m. And China also has some 600m mobile-phone subscribers, more than any other country, so the potential for the mobile internet is enormous. Companies that stake their reputations on being at the technological forefront understand this. Last year Lee Kai-fu, Google's president in China, announced that Google was redesigning its products for a market where 'most Chinese users who touch the mobile internet will have no PC at all.'"


Przekroj 04.09.2008 (Poland)

Poland is up in arms about a WWII film in the planning, "The Secret of the Westerplatte" which presents the Polish army not a pure heroes, but as normal soldiers with a soft spot for liquor and ladies. The Polish Film Institute has decided to freeze the financing and wait for more advice from historians, writes Igor Ryciak. "It is the first time since 1989 that politicians have intervened so publicly. I thought we had seen the back of the days when party activists and censors decided on what scripts were fit to be filmed - a long time ago. But no, it's much worse now. Under socialism at least the censors read the stuff that was put in front of them. The cacophony surrounding this film about defending the Polish army garrison is making it virtually impossible to distinguish between truth and rumour."


Gazeta Wyborcza 06.09.2008 (Poland)

"The Americans are from Mars, but then so are the Russians. The fear of seeming like the weaker party has dominated both sides' reactions to the crisis in the Caucasus. The bitter rivalry between the two former Cold War superpowers is becoming a banal confrontation," writes Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev. By contrast the so-called paper tiger of Europe has deployed its "soft power" adeptly: "Watch any children's film today, something like 'Shrek III', and you will find out that in today's world, paper tigers are more effective than real tigers, or even evil bears. Paper tigers are friendly, clever and they don't suffer from superiority or inferiority complexes. In postmodern popular culture, they are the one who become princess-rescuing heroes and kings."


L'Espresso 05.09.2008 (Italy)

Umberto Eco has had enough of the annual discussion about whether or not to name a street after Mussolini or Bettino Craxi (more). Eco thinks they are both dreadful and he calls for a law that rules that a person has to be dead for over 100 years before their name can be used for a street or a square. After all, a hundred years down the line, no one will remember what went on. And anyway: "naming a street after someone is the simplest way to erase them from the public mind and consign them to lively anonymity. Aside from a few rare cases like Garibaldi or Cavour, no one knows the first thing about the people who have streets and squares named after them - and if someone does remember, then it's just one person in the public consciousness who became a street – and that's that."


El Pais Semanal 07.09.2008 (Spain)

Spanish author Javier Cercas turns his thoughts to happiness. "One of the bad habits of the philosopher is to insist on being interesting. Old-fashioned as I obviously am, I still believe that philosophy is not there to contradict the ruling discourse, but to tell the truth, and the truth is not always interesting. To say that everybody is striving for happiness is boring and hardly original - philosophers have been saying it since Aristotle - but it's true and that gives it a certain edge. Of course it's more original for a philosopher like, say, Boris Groys to celebrate misery, illness and old age, and to distance himself from the all-controlling celebration of youth. The problem is that it's impossible to sustain such nonsense when you compare it with your personal experience. Like everyone else, at 18 I was a fearless prince, whereas now, at 46, I am nothing more than a beggar who, like Cioran said, tries to transform his fears into sarcasm."


The New Yorker 08.09.2008 (USA)

Officially the first victim to die, in 2006, in the Ground Zero clean-up, police officer James Zadroga is a 9/11 hero. An initial autopsy concluded that toxins in the air destroyed his lungs. But major doubts surfaced when New York's head pathologist decided that the damage was cause by prescription drug abuse. Jennifer Kahn Zadrogas's fascinating and minutely detailed report, weighs pros and cons, but arrives at no clear-cut conclusion. "The question of what actually killed James Zadroga is one that public officials appear reluctant to answer candidly, and, increasingly, the debate surrounding the case seems to be less about scientific evidence than about public feeling. This is the view of Brian Monahan, a sociologist at Iowa State University who is working on a book on 9/11. 'After 9/11, we suddenly had emerging all these perfect heroes, who stood against bin Laden, the perfect villain,' he said, observing that Zadroga was also a natural icon: young, the first to die, a father. Aligning oneself with a hero, he added, is a convenient way to manage the chaos of a complicated event, and to present a point of view that can't be argued with."


Le Figaro 04.09.2008 (France)

Ghislein de Diesbach reviews "A History of Snobbery" by Frederic Rouvillois, an author and law professor who, alongside countless legal and political books, also wrote a cultural history of politeness (published 2006). The book also deals with the phenomenon of inverse-snobbery, which is often far worse than the top-down snobbery against which it's directed. Rouvillois makes an interesting distinction between the snob and the dandy which are commonly equated but which should not be confused. "The dandy is very happy to adapt his personality to a group or society, whereas the snob sacrifices his true personality, his true desires and tastes, for the group to which he dreams of belonging. In short, although both attach great value to appearances, the dandy strives to stick out from the crowd but the snob is merely interested in being part of it. "


The Guardian 06.09.2008 (UK)

The Man Booker Prize is forty years old (see this year's longlist) and the Guardian has prepared a special birthday gift. The editors asked jury members from each year to recount the inside story of how the winner was chosen. In 1970, Antonia Fraser remembers how she missed out on flirting with a future Nobel Prize laureate. "I shared a taxi back with fellow judge Saul Bellow on a long, long ride from somewhere in the City: he was nattily dressed in a pale green shantung suit, blue shirt, green tie with large blue dots on it; his silver hair and slanting, large dark eyes made him look like a 30s film star playing a refined gangster. Suddenly he leaned forward and asked: 'Has anyone ever told you that you're a very handsome woman?' I pondered on a suitable reply, modest yet encouraging. But having spoken, the Great Man closed his eyes and remained apparently asleep for the rest of the journey."


Der Spiegel 08.09.2008 (Germany)

Dirk Kurbjuweit's cover story confirms the worst suspicions about the machinations of Constantin Film, the company that produced the "The Baader Meinhof Complex", which is due out at the end of the month. A few weeks ago, all the critics who had been invited to an exclusive preview of the film were threatened by the production company with fines of 100,000 euros if they printed interviews or any commentary on the film before September 17 – with the argument that no one should have an unfair advantage. In this week's Spiegel, though, Kurbjuweit not only reports on the filming and conversations with those involved, he also writes cheerfully – and of course positively – about the film itself: "A cinema in Hamburg, the film begins. On the beach at Sylt, Ulrike Meinhof is on holiday with her family. In the next few minutes Benno Ohnesorg will be shot by a policeman and Rudi Dutschke will be shot by a crazed right-wing radical, we all know the story. Then another two hours go by. But then something happens with this film and by the end you have the feeling that it was well worth seeing, not only because of the great acting."


Nepszabadsag 08.09.2008 (Hungary)

Women are thin on the ground in the villages of Southern and Eastern Serbia. The response of Zeljko Vasiljevic, the State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry of Social Affairs, was to recommend "importing" 100,000 women from Christian-Orthodox countries, or even Buddhist ones because "Buddhism is a gentle religion like Orthodoxy". In these desperate times not even skin colour matters, as long as enough Serbian children are born into the world. The Hungarian writer Laslo Vegel, who lives in the Serbian Voivodina, is amazed: "Ten years ago Vasiljevic would probably not have been criticised for his misogyny but for offending the nation. Because how dare anyone cast doubt on the purity of the national identity? But this latest nation-saving initiative shows that the world has changed - even nationalism is not what it used to be. It's the classic dichotomy. Death of the nation or multiculturalism?"
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