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23/09/2008

Magazine Roundup

Portfolio | The Economist | L'Espresso |
London Review of Books | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New York Review of Books | The Observer | ADN cultura | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times

Portfolio 01.10.2008 (USA)

There seems to be a steady flow of rumours about the latest billionaire who wants to snap up the New York Times. One of them is the Mexican construction tycoon Carlos Slim Helo, who has just bought 6 percent of the company stock. Another is Raymond Harbert (49), Alabama's wealthiest man, whose father made his money with steel. Sheelah Kolhatkar launches into her lengthy portrait of Harbert with the following disheartening comment: "And so the fate of the country's (and perhaps the world's) most esteemed journalistic institution will be determined, in part, by a fortune that was made a half-century ago in the coal mines of Kentucky and on the highways of Alabama by a man who carried a sidearm into union drives and never met a Republican he didn't like. It's an irony fit for the pages of the New York Times...."

Expect to get the goose bumps when you read Roger Lowenstein's review of Stephen Baker's "The Numerati" which, without a hint of irony, describes the consumer surveillance carried out by Google, Smartcards and health insurance companies, as a positive Utopia.


The Economist 19.09.2008 (UK)

The Economist reviews Randall Stross's book about Google and how it changed the world. Most of Stross's descriptions are to the point, the reviewer states, and yet he has omitted one crucial factor: "He is at his best when explaining how Google's mission casually but lethally smashes into long-existing institutions such as, say, copyright law or privacy norms. And yet, unfathomably, he mostly omits the most fascinating component of Google, its people. Google is what it is because of its two founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who see themselves as benevolent über-geeks and embody the limitless optimism about science, technology and human nature that is native to Silicon Valley. The world is perfectible, and they are the ones who will do much of the perfecting, provided you let them."


L'Espresso 21.09.2008 (Italy)

Umberto Eco has long believed that technology is regressing and progress is looping back on itself. Microsoft has added the latest fuel to this theory and now PC-consumer Eco wants to abandon his problem-ridden Windows Vista and revert to good old XP. A move that comes at a price, he discovers: "Downgrading is the chance to treat your own computer to some old programmes. And pay for the pleasure. Before this wonderful neologism was invented online, under the noun 'downgrade' in your average Italian-English dictionary, you would also find downfall, decline or reduced version, whereas the verb was followed by retreat, reduce and devalue. In other words we are being offered to invest not insubstantial amount of times and money in devaluing and reducing something for which we have already paid a not insubstantial sum. This would sound fantastical were it not true."


London Review of Books 25.09.2008 (UK)

R:W. Johnson, who lives in Cape Town, recounts the grim story of a woman who was harassed and raped, took her case to court (something most people never dare to do) and after the perpetrator was handed down a laughable sentence, now lives in fear of her life. By way of an introduction, Johnson describes the sort of place where this sort of thing happens on a daily basis and why he decided to get himself a gun: "A murder rate of roughly four hundred a week and a rape every 26 seconds concentrates the mind. Since we got our freedom in 1994 we've had more than 270,000 murders. Once a government fails that badly to provide law and order any old Hobbesian will tell you that the social contract no longer applies. Anyway, discussions with my friend Robbie soon revolved around whether a .38 or a 9mm parabellum was the better bet. Knowing nothing about all this, I opted for a .38 lent me by a dear old Jewish Communist lady who said: look, I always carried it but I never fired it. Other friends said there's nothing like a shotgun. Just the sound of someone loading it and cocking it will freak out most burglars. It can shoot right through doors, after all."

Further articles include: Perry Anderson's detailed description of the history and pre-history of democracy in Turkey; and Donald MacKenzie explains how the British Bankers' Association's London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor is calculated, and why it's so incredibly important to the global economy.

The reviews include: Quentin Skinner's examination of theories of liberalism after Hobbes, which ends in a plea for a positive, Republican understanding of freedom; an exhibition of the cartoonist and illustrator Osbert Lancaster in London's Wallace Collection; and a collection of letters by Penelope Fitzgerald.

Gazeta Wyborcza 20.09.2008 (Poland)

Every now and then the media rekindles the debate about the state of the Polish "inteligencja", proclaiming its end at regular intervals. In an interview, historian Jerzy Jedlicki indulges in another form of pessimism. "I am becoming more and more convinced that we are not here to have any sort of influence on society but to conserve for ourselves and our heirs that great cultural heritage, which only gets media coverage on late night TV or special channels. This has created a reserve where one can still listen to Bach, look at art or talk about the world. In America, the motherland of popular culture, they might have fantastic campuses where science is practised at lofty heights, but society rarely takes any notice of it. I think that Europe is moving in the same direction."

A US congress resolution has refocussed the public eye on the tricky issue of Jewish property resititution in Poland and other Central East European states. The Polish government is drafting a law on general re-privatisation which has sparked deep controversy. The problem has been a central issue for the Gazeta Wyborcza for some time now, and this week it reports on various talks with representatives of Jewish organisations in the USA: "It was difficult just ask straight out: "Do you want back what belonged to your forefathers? It seemed inappropriate and insensitive, but I knew there was no avoiding the question. (...) No one wants to disrupt the positive developments in Polish-Jewish dialogue. It's just that the unresolved problem about Jewish property has hampered this dialogue for years now, like a stone in the shoe," writes Pawel Smolenski.


The New York Review of Books 09.10.2008 (USA)

Charles Simic reviews Philip Roth's new novel "Indignation", the story of a 19-year-old US soldier, who dies a long painful death in the Korean War. The book, Simic writes, deals the reader precisely the blow to the head that is necessary every now and then to remind us of how lucky we are, and in the process gives the Korean war a contemporary relevance: "The Pentagon's ban on making images of dead soldiers' homecomings and burials is intended to prevent us from turning into novelists for a moment, from speculating about their lives and the cause for which they died. This order of things, knowing nothing about the fate of others, is evidently necessary, Chekhov observes in one of his stories. What he has to say on that subject was true of the Russia of his day and is true of America today: 'The happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible.' A silence Simic writes, that Roth has broken masterfully.


The Observer 21.09.2008 (UK)

Robert McCrum travelled to Upstate New York to visit Philip Roth to talk about his new book, "Indignation" - or novella, as the writer admits. The talk circles around Roth's life and work, the approach of death, and the difficulty of starting a new project: "Roth is looking for a new subject, and is once again in that dreadful limbo between books. 'Starting a new book is hell. You just flail around until something happens. It's miraculous. It comes to you out of nothing and nowhere. That's the problem with writing short books. You finish them too quickly. And that's what's wonderful about a long book. So I've decided I've got to find a big project that will take me right through to the end. Finish the day before, and - exit ghost.'"


ADN cultura 20.09.2008 (Argentina)

To mark the publication of Eduardo Galeano's latest book of essays, "Espejos – "almost a universal story" as the subtitle ironically promises – which has scaled Latin American bestseller lists in no time at all, Jorge Urien Berri talks to the prominent Uruguayan journalist and writer. An earlier book of Galeano's, which he wrote over 30 years ago, "Open Veins of Latin America" still defines the face of the continent today – even if only for the suggestive power of its title: "The meaning of words is holy, we have to return to this. I have just got back from Paraguay where, like no other place I know, the victors speak the language of the defeated. And in this Amerind language of Guarani, one of Paraguay's two official languages, they use the same expression for 'word' and 'soul'. This means that lying is violation of the soul. Politicians, writers, and everyone else who works with words, should be conscious of the holy nature of language. The greatest test of any politician should be to make people believe what he is saying. Of course this is a pipe dream."


Elet es Irodalom 19.09.2008 (Hungary)

After the Russian attack on Georgia many Cold War veterans are worried that, if we don't watch out, Russian tanks will soon be rolling towards the gates of Budapest and Prague. But sociologist Pal Tamas looks at the reactions of the international community to the crisis in Georgia, and finds very different grounds for concern: "The real issue is that it provided fresh evidence that the behaviour of international organisations – in spite of their endless endless treaties, forums, and eagerly paid membership contributions – is completely unpredictable and extremely vulnerable. We have seens no Kissingers or Talleyrands taking to the stage and knowing what has to be done. On the domestic front, we have long known that there are no experts left in government, that they've been replaced by mere communicators. But we held out hope that there was still some skill and vision in foreign policy at least. After all, the idea is to keep the world in equilibrium. And now we must swallow the bitter pill that here, too, expertise is in short supply."


The New York Times 22.09.2008 (USA)

In the Book Review the radical loose cannon of the left, Christopher Hitchens, pens a highly sympathetic review of Bernard-Henry Levy's defence of a non-fundamentalist left, "Left in Dark Times": "The left, Levy insists, must renounce any version of ultimate or apocalyptic history, along with any mad schemes to create heaven on earth. A secular, pragmatic humanism will be quite demanding enough, thank you. In conclusion, Levy repudiates radical sympathy with theocracy, and indeed theology, by inverting Pascal and saying that 'we have to make an antiwager that we can win not by betting on the existence but on the nonexistence of God. That's the price of democracy. And the alternative, the only one, is the devil and his legions of murderous angels.' It's hard not to wish him well in striving to purge the left of its demons. But an antiwager is still a wager, and one sometimes has the feeling that the dark times of the old left are only just beginning."

Further articles: David Gates has also read Philip Roth's "Indignation" and was deeply impressed: "Of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven - an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there."
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