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07/10/2008

Magazine Roundup

Le Monde | Die Weltwoche | The New York Review of Books | Babelia | London Review of Books | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New Yorker | Outlook India | The Economist | Nepszabadsag | The New York Times | L'Espresso | La vie des idees | Standpoint


Le Monde 04.10.2008 (France)

Novelist Jonathan Littell, who once upon a time worked as a delegate for the Soros Foundation in Georgia, returned to the region, travelling also to South Ossetia, during the 5-day war with Russia. In Le Monde he publishes an epic reportage that is unsparing in its criticism of both parties. Among other things, he writes about the press policy of the two states: Unlike the Georgians, the Russians refused journalists the right to conduct free research. "The highlight of this Magical Mystery Tour was the classical concert by St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre orchestra under Valery Gergiev in front of the ruins of the local parliament. For years the Georgians had been trying to get Gergiev, a North Ossetian and a close friend of Putin's, to perform a reconciliation concert. Before his performance in Tskhinvali, surrounded by hordes of children, he gave a speech in Russian and English which was broadcast live on Russian TV. He talked about the 'genocide' which had been carried out by the Georgians, comparing it with the attacks of September 11. And although even the Ossetians were talking of just 133 civilian deaths by this time, he preferred to stick to the original version of 2,000."


Die Weltwoche 02.10.2008 (Switzerland)

Political scientist Matthias Küntzel asks, 63 years after Auschwitz, whether anti-Semitism has become part normal discourse – or why else would Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic speech at the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly have provoked such minimal protest. "Perhaps it's down to a rhetorical trick. Ahmadinejad lent his anti-Semitism a respectable veneer by referring to 'Zionists' instead of 'Jews'. Immediately the UN Assembly hailed him as an anti-imperialist star. That the Iranian president ascribes the same meaning to the word 'Zionist' as Hitler did to the word 'Jew', and that he sees himself as the heir apparent to the revolutionary leader Khomeni, is widely ignored."


The New York Review of Books 23.10.2008 (USA)

In his book on the credit crisis, "The New Paradigm for Financial Markets", George Soros predicts the end of an era: the end of a long phase of stability, the end of the dominance of the US market and the end of the dollar. John Cassidy doesn't dare contradict him, especially because Soros has been talking about the oncoming crisis for a long time now: "Rather than criticizing his fellow investors on Wall Street, who created many of the newfangled debt instruments - such as mortgage-backed securities and collateral debt obligations - that have now imploded, Soros puts the blame on the regulators and central bankers who aided and abetted the financiers' incendiary activities. Under the system of 'self-regulation' adopted by American and European banking regulators, many big financial institutions, such as Citigroup, Barclays, and Union Bank of Switzerland, were allowed to rely on their internal risk-management systems. The only outside check on their activities came from commercial ratings agencies, such as Moody's and Standard & Poor's, which depended on the banks' fees for business. 'I find this the most shocking abdication of responsibility on the part of the regulators,' Soros writes. 'If they could not calculate the risk, they should not have allowed the institutions under their supervision to undertake them. The risk models of the banks were based on the assumption that the system is stable. But, contrary to market fundamentalist beliefs, the stability of financial markets is not assured; it has to be actively maintained by the authorities.'"


Babelia 04.10.2008 (Mexico)

In an interview, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes (his new novel "La Voluntad y la Fortuna" has just been published) expresses his grave concern at the conflict between the Mexican state and the drug mafia which is spiralling into civil war. "Life here is getting more dangerous by the day. I no longer dare to walk round the block. Everyone is calling for more security. This is a risky business because security often comes hand-in-hand with authoritarianism, dictatorship. The great challenge is to provide security under democratic conditions. Security is closely linked to the drugs trade. An important first step would be for 6, 7, 8 states to come together and legalise drugs. Of course this would push up drug consumption. But when Roosevelt ended prohibition, it didn't put a stop to alcoholism, but it did get rid of the Al Capones."


London Review of Books 09.10.2008 (UK)

To his obvious distaste, Adam Shatz has just watched the anti-Islamist agitprop film "Obsession", 28 million copies of which were shoved through US mailboxes last Sunday inside 74 different newspapers – the New York Times among them. The film was produced by non-commercial organisation known as the "Clarion Fund" which is a front for neocons and Israeli pressure groups. "Violent raptures and spectacular carnage unfold in slick montages set to throbbing Middle Eastern music: Pakistanis deliriously burning the American flag, Palestinians celebrating the 9/11 attacks, Hizbullah chanting 'death to America', clerics praising the 'magnificent 19' and the murder of unbelievers, children training to become suicide bombers, the planes crashing into the towers. These images are interspersed with footage of Nazi rallies and Hitler's speeches. A chapter – narrated by Martin Gilbert, Churchill's biographer – is devoted to the Mufti's collaboration with Hitler." The film is also available at YouTube.


Le Nouvel Observateur 02.10.2008 (France)

Since the spring, Flammarion publishers have been waging a slick marketing campaign for a book which is due out on October 8. No details were revealed except that it was a joint project by two well-known French authors. The rest was left to rumour which ensured that a good 100.000 copies were pre-purchased blindly. Now the beast is out: "Ennemis publics" is the name Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Levy have given their exchange of letters. Don't believe the hype, says the Nouvel Obs, it's not the least bit interesting. But the most annoying thing about this "lamento duet" by two "misunderstood geniuses" is the way two well-established men have talked themselves up as "public enemies" and victims of a system which has done them proud. The magazine publishes several excerpts (here and here). In one, dated 26 January 2006, Michel Houellebecq writes: "We both perfectly symbolise the abominable fatigue affecting French culture and intelligence, as Time Magazine harshly but aptly phrased it not long ago. We have done nothing to contribute to the renaissance of the French Electro scene. And we don't even appear in the credits of 'Ratatouille'."


The New Yorker 13.10.2008 (USA)

Alex Ross attended the Berlin Philharmonic's performance of Stockhausen's concert for three orchestras, "Gruppen", in Tempelhof airport. "The almighty Berlin Philharmonic executed Stockhausen's complexities with fierce attention to detail and also with a kind of improvisatory verve. By the fourth performance, the musicians were visibly enjoying themselves. A surprising human warmth emerged from the more subdued, reflective passages of the work: the meanderings of a solitary guitar, the shivering masses of tremolo strings. An almost Mahlerian atmosphere of wistfulness descended in the last few minutes, as the instruments grasped onto the sweeter intervals in Stockhausen's master twelve-tone row."

Under the heading "The Oracle", Lauren Collins portrays the influential writer and blogger, Ariane Huffington, and her left-wing liberal online paper, The Huffington Post. "Billy Kimball, the comedy writer, said, 'She has that European woman's gift of listening to you in a way that makes a person feel simultaneously fascinating and foolish. The person kind of fills in the end of the sentence, saying a little more than he necessarily wanted to.'"


Outlook India 13.10.2008 (India)

Aside from cricket, only one other thing provides such a regular source of amazement for Outlook India: Bollywood. Anjali Puri and Namrata Joshi describe how the phenomenon is burying ever deeper into the soul of India's burgeoning middle classes. One explanation: "In a diverse neighbourhood, in which the real estate broker from Siwan in Bihar lives next door to Banias from Rajasthan and Punjabi Khatris from Delhi, Bollywood song and dance is palpably a tradition that everybody can be part of, no matter where they come from and what caste they are. As sociologist Patricia Uberoi puts it, 'A national language has come into being.'"


The Economist 06.10.2008 (UK)

The Economist dedicates two articles to a new breed of flatrate that just might save the music industry. Here's how: "By hiding the cost of a music subscription inside something else. The best example for this approach is Nokia's Comes With Music (CWM) model. Buy a CWM handset and you get free, unlimited music downloads for a year. Of course, they aren't really free: the price of the handset includes a subscription fee that is passed to the record companies. After a year, you can pay to continue to download new tunes, or you can buy another CWM handset, with another year of free service. Thus consumers get their music; record companies get paid; and Nokia attracts and retains customers."

The reviews include Yasheng Huang's study of "Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics" and Timothy W. Ryback's book on "Hitler's Private Library".


Nepszabadsag 04.10.2008 (Hungary)

With an eye to the precarious situation of the Roma in Hungary, behavioural scientist Vilmos Csanyi calls for the state to create jobs that will teach them to work: "The habit of working is the result of a long process of socialisation. Those in whom it has developed will look for opportunities and then work when they find work. But if successive generations are socialised on welfare payments, the catastrophic result is that later on they won't even work if they have jobs. (...) Which is why the state should fund socialisation programmes and jobs, set up bus services for the workers and build state-funded factories in Roma villages which don't hand out welfare but pay wages. Even if there is no great demand for the manufactured goods or they run at a loss. Because the actual products of these factories will not be the manufactured goods their but socialisation itself, and the culture of work."


The New York Times 04.10.2008 (USA)

American capitalism is sick and, as Jon Gernter reports in the Sunday Magazine, Silicon Valley is looking rather green. But he means this in a positive sense, and then goes on to describe the fortunes of the venture capital group Kleiner Perkins, which once helped finance Google and is now teaming up the likes of Al Gore to invest in ecology. "By the beginning of autumn, Kleiner had financed 40 different green-tech companies and raised a total of about 1 billion dollars to that end. Some of the firm's fledging green ventures were evolutionary improvements on current technologies that would soon hit the market, like the electric Think car. Others I heard about promised to revolutionize various aspects of the energy economy — in, say, solar power or biofuels - much as Netscape or Google remade the Web or Genentech (another Kleiner Perkins venture) ushered in the biotechnology era several decades earlier. In many parts of Silicon Valley, it seemed misguided to regard the U.S. economy as reliant solely on Wall Street. The future still depended on entrepreneurs and innovations and green-tech businesses getting 'traction.'"

For the Sunday Book Review, Joshua Hammer reads Ian Buruma's new novel, "The China Lover" where Chinese-Japanese history is played out in the character of a film diva.


L'Espresso 02.10.2008 (Italy)

Umberto Eco can't seem to shake the feeling of being stuck in a time warp and having to trawl through the muck all over again. As disaffected youngsters in the fifties, he and his friend Roberto Leydi founded an anti-patriotic society. "We wanted a referendum to give Lombardy back to Austria, Naples to the Bourbons, Rome, of course, to the Pope, transfer Piedmont to France and Sicily to Malta. It would have meant tearing down Garibaldi monuments from squares everywhere, changing the odd street name which remembered Cavour or other such martyrs, and rewriting schoolbooks to throw doubt on the integrity of Carlo Pisacane and Enrico Toti. And so on. But our society dissolved after we had the devasting realisation that to be truly anti-patriotic and bring about Italy's ruin, we would have to reinstall Il Duce. Italy would only properly go to the dogs if we all became neo-fascists. We found this idea abhorrent and promptly abandoned the project."


La vie des idees 29.09.2008 (France)

What is happening to the book in the age of digitalisation and how has reading changed over the centuries? These are the sort of questions which Roger Chartier, an historian and expert on the history of books and reading, discusses in a fascinating interview. One thing that emerges from the conversation is that the book was never the hermetic object that we think of it as today. They were forever being rewritten. "And so the handwritten copy was open to textual mobility. With the exception of sacred writings, where each letter had to be respected, all texts were open to interpretation, additions, alterations. In the early days of printing, from the 15th right up to the early 19th century, editions were very small, for all number of reasons. They ranged from 1,000 to 1,5000 copies. The more successful the work, the more editions were made. And every new edition was a new interpretation."


Standpoint 02.10.2008 (UK)

People think of classical music as elitist and pop as rebellious. British tenor Ian Bostridge picks apart this myth: "Rock and roll is the art form of late capitalism. It is not a utopian alternative to it or a protest against it. An early indication of this was the failure of the Beatles' utopian schemes for their Apple Corps in the late 1960s. 'A beautiful place where you can buy beautiful things . . . a controlled weirdness . . . a kind of western communism', as Paul McCartney called it. 'We're in the happy position of not needing any more money. So for the first time, the bosses aren't in it for profit. We've already bought all our dreams. We want to share that possibility with others.' The corporation was most recently in the news settling a long-­running trademark dispute with Apple Computer. Bob Dylan's enlistment in a campaign for Victoria's Secret underwear was only the latest manoeuvre in this retreat from idealism.'"
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