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14/04/2009

Magazine Roundup

Eurozine | The Boston Review | La vie des idees | The Nation | The Guardian | NZZ Folio | The New York Review of Books | Le Point | The Economist | Beszelö | The Spectator | City Journal | New York Times |


Eurozine 03.04.2009 (Austria)

Please note: all Eurozine articles mentioned here are available in English translation.

A few weeks ago, Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic explained in Eurozine, why she had no plans to return to Belgrade: because no one there, not even the younger generation, is prepared to discuss the past. Instead they complain about not being able to get EU visas. "True, the young generation of Serbs can not be held responsible for the past. But all of them are responsible for their present attitude to the past because it is important for their future."

A storm of protest ensued. The dramatist and poet Milena Bogavac (born 1982) accuses her of arrogance and jeers: "It must be nice, oh so nice to uphold moral standards, to believe in the purity of one's own position and to accept one's own interpretation of history as the only one possible, as true and just. This is how a teenager who later became my grandfather must have felt when he ran away to become a partisan. This is how Adolf Hitler must have felt at the very beginning of his career."

Painter and actor Uros Djuric (born 1964) thinks objects to Draculic tarring all Serbs with one brush. The painter Ljuba Popovic (born 1934) is outraged by Drakulic's "nauseating, propaganda-coloured talk". And the publisher Natasha Markovic asks why no one has mentioned the bombs that were dropped on the Serbs.

Journalist Danica Vucenic is the only one to side with Drakulic, telling her fellow Serbs that it is not enough to say, "I was not involved". It is not enough to say, "I'm sorry but... (the crimes against the Serbs were also terrible etc.)" ."We are, as always, dealing with the feeling of others. I want to deal with my own feelings with regard to my own past. The problem our neighbours have is that they faced their own past; my problem is that we still have to face and explain what happened in Srebrenica or in Kosovo. Unfortunately, we always have this 'but'."


The Boston Review 01.04.2009 (USA)

Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at George Soros' "Open Society Institute" is working on a book about the role of the Internet in democratising authoritarian regimes. In an essay for the Boston Review he soon dispenses with all starry-eyed cyber-optimism: blogs spread totalitarian and democratic worldviews alike, and dictators abuse the Net. Morozov also makes the rather bold assertion that: "East Germans who could not tune in to West German broadcasting had higher rates of opposition to their government than those who did." Cyber- utopianism, in his opinion, is based on fallacy. "The secular, progressive, and pro–Western bloggers tend to write in English rather than in their native language. Consequently, they are also the ones who speak to Western reporters on a regular basis. Should the media dig a bit deeper, they might find ample material to run articles with headlines like 'Iranian bloggers: major challenge to democratic change' and 'Saudi Arabia: bloggers hate women's rights.'"


La vie des idees 13.04.2009 (France)

Christine Bard, contemporary and fashion historian, pens a fascinating essay on the problems French women face by wearing skirts. The subject was also raised in Isabelle Adjani's last film, "La journee de la jupe", in which Adjani plays a teacher who resorts to rather drastic action in order to introduce a "Skirt Day" at her school, so that girls can attend lessons in skirts without being called "whores" by the boys. The idea for a "Skirt Day" was actually initiated at a secondary school in Brittany. A sort of inverse feminism is making itself heard, says Bard. The debate has been taken up by the highest political circles: "The colleagues of Valerie Pecresse, the French minister for education, signed a petition calling for her to stop only wearing trousers. The minister promised to try it out. The incident, which sounds like an April fool, is symptomatic: trousers are a potent indicator in the analysis of gender relations, because they symbolise power. Just think of 'who wears the trousers.'" Bard concludes her essay with a call for 'Skirt Day' to be introduced for both sexes.


The Nation 27.04.2009 (USA)

Professor of Journalism, Eric Alterman, sees only one way out of the US newspaper crisis: to turn newspapers into non-profit institutions. A Newspaper Revitalization Act has just been introduced to allow advertising and subscription revenues to become tax-exempt, and make donations to support coverage or operations tax-deductible. Not that newspapers will welcome the move, because non-profit status will deprive them of one of their favourite activities: "Nothing makes the juices inside a newspaper flow like a meeting in its boardroom with a presidential or senatorial candidate paying tribute to their collective wisdom and power. And nothing exercises an editorial staff like a good fight over who, or what, is going to get its endorsement. Thing is, nobody cares" as so few people subscribe to their local paper that the editorial endorsement has become a "near total anachronism".

And Michael O'Donnell reviews Fred Strebeigh's (website) huge study "Equal -Women Reshape American Law".


The Guardian 11.04.2009 (UK)

The Books section remembers the Thatcher years. Nicholas Wroe portrays comedy producer John Lloyd, the man behind three ground-breaking comedy programmes of the late Seventies and Eighties: "Not the Nine O'Clock News", "Spitting Image" and "Blackadder". He also shared a house with Douglas Adams: "'Douglas struggled tremendously with the practicalities of life and was like some sort of orphaned gorilla in the house. My girlfriend and I would sort of look after him, and he'd spend all day in the bath drinking tea.' While Lloyd was happy to work within the system and was quickly producing established comedy shows such as 'Just a Minute' and 'Weekending', 'Douglas could only do Douglas things, and so he had to wait until he got complete freedom to do 'Hitchhiker's'. It took a long time, and I remember him crying on his bed saying that he had no money, it was all hopeless and he was going to become a shipbroker in Hong Kong. The next week, the Hitchhiker pilot was commissioned.'"

Watch the Spitting Image response to the 1987 Tory election victory.



Germaine Greer paints a deeply unflattering portrait of Margaret Thatcher, and Philip Hensher describes how British literature reacted to Thatcher's election victory in 1979.


NZZ Folio 01.04.2009 (Switzerland)

Gold is the focus of this week's magazine. "Paper money is confetti," declares the Swiss stock market guru, Marc Faber alias "Dr. Doom", in an interview and advises everyone to start buying gold: "Back in 2000, at a dinner in St. Moritz one evening, everyone was discussing shares. One woman explained how she was buying and selling Nasdaq shares. Then they asked me what I would buy. I replied that the Nasdaq was on the verge of collapse and I would invest in gold. They shook their heads and exclaimed: But the price of gold is always dropping! True enough, while everything else was climbing steadily, the price of gold had been dropping for two decades in a row. That's why it was so incredibly cheap! But people are such idiots. Your typical small-time investor gets most enthusiastic when prices are high."

Further articles: The global gold reserve is a 20m cube that weighs in at around 153,000 tonnes, reports Wolf Schneider in his history of gold. Bernhard Bartsch travels to Zhaoyuan, a gold mine in China, the world largest gold producer.

In his perfume column, Luca Turin predicts (in English translation) the end of the art of perfumery: "On January 1, 2010 it will be officially dead. On that date, amendment 43 by IFRA, the international fragrance association, will take effect, and all perfumes on the market, old, young, fine fragrance or shampoo, must follow its guidelines or be in breach of the law in the EU. Among the many disasters that will befall fine fragrance, let me pick an emblematic one: oakmoss."


The New York Review of Books 30.04.2009 (USA)

Mark Danner has read and posted online a "strictly confidential" and Red Cross report on the "Treatment of Fourteen 'High Value Detainees' in CIA Custody". It provides a detailed account of how the men were systematically tortured, but, says Danner, fails to address the real issue at stake: "The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the 'politics of fear' is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved. That this has not yet happened is the reason why, despite the innumerable reports and studies and revelations that have given us a rich and vivid picture of the Bush administration's policies of torture, we as a society have barely advanced along this path. We have not so far managed, despite all the investigations, to produce a bipartisan, broadly credible, and politically decisive effort, and pronounce authoritatively on whether or not these activities accomplished anything at all in their stated and still asserted purpose: to protect the security interests of the country."

J.M. Coetzee
is fascinated by the exemplary publication of Samuel Beckett's letters from 1929 to 1940: "Migrations of artists are only crudely related to fluctuations in exchange rates. Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that in 1937, after a new devaluation of the franc, Beckett found himself in a position to quit Ireland and return to Paris. Money is a recurrent theme in his letters, particularly toward the end of the month. His letters from Paris are full of anxious notations about what he can and cannot afford (hotel rooms, meals). Though he never starved, he lived a genteel version of a hand-to-mouth existence. Books and paintings were his sole personal indulgence. In Dublin he borrows 30 pounds to buy a painting by Jack Butler Yeats, brother of William Butler Yeats, that he cannot resist. In Munich he buys the complete works of Kant in eleven volumes."

Further articles: Historian Orlando Figes introduces the memoirs of the editorial director of the Yale University Press, Jonathan Brent, "Inside the Stalin Archives". It describes how his work on the "Annals of Communism" took him into the Soviet Archives, whose director had accumulated a substantial private fortune by selling off important documents to historians and journalists. Figes also has harsh words for the recent harassment of the Memorial organisation by the Russian authorities. (Anne Applebaum also reviewed the book in Slate.) David Hare asks some fundamental question about Israel's wall - why it's so popular, for example: "Have you ever known anything of which 84 percent of people were in favor?" And Hilary Mantel looks into Marilyn French's four-volume "History of Women".


Le point 09.04.2009 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernhard-Henri Levy sings Nato's praises and takes a swing at the opposition, the "rioters" of Strasbourg. These people have understood nothing: "Bizarrely we have never heard a ripple of insurgency or compassion from these people when it comes to the martyrs in Rwanda or Darfur. They are ideologists. As long as their fixed ideas triumph, they couldn't give a damn about all the unnamed victims of forgotten wars, such as the Bosnians and Kosovars. They just don't fit the picture."


The Economist 10.04.2009 (UK)

A highly informative article explains why the global water supply could start running dry in the coming decades. Population growth and urbanisation are two reasons, but there is a third factor which should not be underestimated: "Different foods require radically different amounts of water. To grow a kilogram of wheat requires around 1,000 litres. But it takes as much as 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef. The meaty diet of Americans and Europeans requires around 5,000 litres of water a day to produce. The vegetarian diets of Africa and Asia use about 2,000 litres a day (for comparison, Westerners use just 100-250 litres a day in drinking and washing). So the shift from vegetarian diets to meaty ones - which contributed to the food-price rise of 2007-08 - has big implications for water, too. In 1985 Chinese people ate, on average, 20kg of meat; this year, they will eat around 50kg. This difference translates into 390km3 (1km3 is 1 trillion litres) of water - almost as much as total water use in Europe."

Other articles cover the plummeting viewing figures for US non-cable broadcasters ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. There are reviews of new books on the climate crisis, a Dorothy Wordsworth biography, Alaistair Crooke's "disturbingly selective" attempt to find good reasons for the Islamic resistance to the West, and the exhibition "Baroque: Style in the Age of Magnificence"at the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Beszelö 01.03.2009 (Hungary)

The poet Akos Györffy has some ideas about where Hungary's hatred of Roma, Jews and gays is heading: "All the petty anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-gay verbal abuse will roll into something much bigger than anyone can imagine – and this will happen at precisely the moment when all the homosexual, Jew and Roma-baiters start washing their hands or crawling into quiet corners and claiming that they had nothing to do with it all. If there is a moral crisis in this country, and there certainly is, then all the Jew, Roma and homosexual abuse, which over the last two decades have been expressed in industrial proportions, has precipitated it. The fruit is gradually ripening and blood has already been spilled. All the foul and cowardly talk has collected and formed into a Golem which is now setting out on its terrifying way. Wherever he goes, it leaves a trail of bodies behind it, fathers and sons filled with bullets, teachers and old women battered to death. We have made this Golem with our words. He needed us to come into life, and we were only too willing to help."


The Spectator 11.04.2009 (UK)

Rod Liddle wishes he had a more "muscular Christianity" behind him instead of a puny Church of England. But then this is an institution which largely views itself "as a sort of superannuated ad-hoc branch of social services: non-judgmental, non-partisan, wholly secular, not Christian at all really, when it comes down to it. It is a little like the BBC, in a way, the Church of England. We all knew why it was brought into being and we all signed up to the necessity for its existence, back then. And we might still have an affection for both institutions, based upon nostalgia and wishful thinking. And yet now, with every year that passes, one wonders why they both still exist, what the purpose is, exactly, for having them." Perhaps he should consider Catholicism.


City Journal 01.04.2009 (USA)

Andre Glucksmann
sees the financial crisis as an excess of post-communist, postmodern thinking by bankers, politicians and the media alike. It started with the credo that all devils are dead. "The market economy has always relativized goods, by revealing their exchangeability, and the Good, by tolerating its multiplicity. But our age is the first to proclaim the power to reduce risk to zero simply by spreading it around. It is the smiling reign of 'positive thinking'—with ultimately disastrous effects."


New York Times 12.04.2009 (USA)

Wyatt Mason takes up the cudgels for American poet Frederick Seidel, who is regarded by some as the greatest living American poet, and by others as the scariest, the "Darth Vader of contemporary poetry". Mason praises his immense candour: "Tone, but also subject, has been central to what perplexes some readers. A significant feature of Seidel's work is how it has lengthened the list of topics worthy of serious poetic scrutiny. 'I live a life of laziness and luxury,' begins the poem 'Frederick Seidel,' one of many instances of self-portraiture in Seidel that unfold before backdrops of a certain grade: hotels like New York's Carlyle (where 'The chandeliers were Faberge sleighs/Flying behind powerful invisible horses,/Powerful invisible forces') or fine Manhattan restaurants ('I mean every part I play./I'm drinking my lunch at Montrachet'), or the rare motorcycles he covets or owns ('Red/As a Ducati 916,/I'm crazed, I speed,/I blaze, I bleed'). The poetic propriety of such inclusions has, by a certain kind of commentator, been questioned."

In the Sunday Book Review, Michael Meyer looks at the six or seven-digit advances which publishers now offer their writers, despite the fact seven out of ten titles do not earn the payments back. "Advance envy is common. 'Writers who can't recall their Social Security number can say to the penny how much of an advance their nemesis received,' Elissa Schappell, a fiction writer and co-editor of the anthology 'Money Changes Everything,' said in an e-mail message."
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