Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

The Nation | Nepszabadsag | Le Monde | The New Yorker | Al Ahram Weekly | Prospect | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Statesman | Qantara | The New York Times

The Nation 18.05.2009 (USA)

Dimiter Kenarov portrays Georgi Stoev, a former mafioso and author of several autobiographical novels about the Bulgarian mafia. In one of his novels he describes a contract killing: two holes in the back, a 'verification' shot in the head and no running away afterwards because no one will be dumb enough to give chase. And this is precisely how Stoev himself was killed last year. There is much debate in Bulgaria about the truth content of his novels, Kenarov says, but it seems as if Stoev might have been killed for breaking a taboo, And this was not because he outed a former foreign minister as a major architect of organised crime, but because he claimed that the same man had homosexual relations with a fellow mafioso. "The allegation was a grave insult in Bulgaria's macho society, one far worse than accusing someone of being a crook. The story was endlessly recycled and publicized like none of Stoev's others in various newspapers and on talk-shows, until it nearly became accepted as fact." Stoev predicted his death on a talk show."

Further articles: Marc Perelman describes the rise of the "left-wing" Left in France, but sees no revolution in sight.

02.05.2009 (Hungary)

After a neo-Nazi demonstration in Budapest on April 18, people are becoming increasingly vociferous about introducing a ban on Holocaust denial. The poet and literary academic Akos Szilagyi has no objections to the proposal because, he says, denying Auschwitz is not expressing an opinion, as the progress of culture is measured by the distance between this culture and the "terrible potential beneath the surface" (Safranski) - and denying Auschwitz represents a move towards this potential. "As such the denial of historical fact equates with the denial of humanity, of the world, of Europe, of Christianity and of freedom that Auschwitz represented. As such, humanity, European culture and democratic rights and liberties have no enemy more irreconcilable than the Auschwitz denier [...] In this one very case (!) the law would not be prohibiting the expression of some appalling, outrageous and incredible 'freak opinion', it would be defending the existential foundations of our post-Auschwitz world."

Le Monde 02.05.2009 (France)

Jacques Mandelbaum, film critic for Le Monde sees a wave of political documentaries heading for France. One explanation could be the success of the Michael Moore films, another, TV's growing inability to deliver similar content. But there is another factor in play, and that is the live aspect which has done so much to rescue the music industry. Mandelbaum cites one film distributor: "The meeting between the audience and the film people is essential for this sort of film launch. This is not some hysterical talk show thing. The people simply want to these people in the flesh, and they are entirely serious in their intent. It is a breath of fresh air for the film industry today, and this sort of presentation may well save its life."

The New Yorker 11.05.2009 (USA)

In a commentary on how the US government is interrogating torture, Philip Gourevitch points out that the only people who have been prosecuted or served sentences for torture are ten low-ranking US servicemen and women who appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs; and only one of them, the former Corporal Charles A. Graner, Jr., is still in prison. Those who gave orders to torture. on the other hand. continue to enjoy their freedom and "C.I.A. interrogators, who spent years committing far worse acts against prisoners than Graner did even in the darkest days at Abu Ghraib, have been assured immunity. But, if full justice remains impossible, surely some injustices can be corrected. Whenever crimes of state are adjudicated—at Nuremberg or The Hague, Phnom Penh or Kigali—the principle of command responsibility, whereby the leaders who give the orders are held to a higher standard of accountability than the foot soldiers who follow, pertains."

Further articles: Malcolm Gladwell examines the David and Goliath principle, citing the example of a software developer, who turned his daughter's hapless Little League basketball team into state champions: underdogs just have to ignore Goliath's rules. Judith Thurman reviews Jennifer Scanlon's biography, "Bad Girls Go Everywhere", about Helen Gurley Brown, who was the editor of Cosmopolitan for 32 years. Sasha Frere-Jones introduces Grizzly Bear, a four-man band from Brooklyn whose strength is singing. And David Denby watched Gavin Hood's action movie "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", the drama "Fighting" by Dito Montiel and James Toback's documentary "Tyson" about Mike the boxer. The magazine has also printed J.G. Ballard's short story "The Autobiogrphy of J.G. Ballard" and poems by Richard Wilbur, C.D. Wright and Heather McHugh.

Al Ahram Weekly 30.04.2009 (Egypt)

Nehad Selaiha is frustrated that Egyptian theatre has missed an opportunity to modernise. She has just watched Bahig Ismail's "Al-Ghoula" (the ogress), a folkloric melodrama that rather ham-fistedly tells the tale of the suppression of women in a fictitious Bedouin tribe. A rather inauspicious start for the National Heritage Theatre Company, Selaiha writes, which is the Cairo Al-Ghad Theater's new name. "Rather than face up to the fact that all the State Theatre companies have long lost direction and have been muddling along for years without an overall philosophy or guiding lines and do something about it, the successive heads of the state theatre organisation have found it easier to juggle around with names. And so, Al-Ghad company now carries another name, but not its venue, which continues to be called Al-Ghad, and I doubt very much that the new name of the company will bring about a change of policy or make any difference."

Prospect 01.05.2009 (UK)

In a series of letters, media experts Steven Johnson and Paul Starr exchange views on the future of the newspaper. Johnson is optimistic and believes that the new system that emerges out of the current upheaval could be an improvement on the old model. "One way to think about that transformation is to think of the media as an ecosystem. In the way it circulates information today's media is, in fact, much closer to an ecosystem than the old industrial, centralised models of mass media. The new world is more diverse and interconnected, a system in which information flows more freely. This complexity makes it interesting, but also hard to predict what it will look like in five or ten years."

Paul Starr, who curtly dismisses Johnson as a parasite without a "crap detector", fears for the end of investigative journalism and the loss of an informed and engaged public: "Those who buy a paper may be chiefly interested in the sports section or the crossword puzzle, but still glance at the front pages, learning something about their city and the world. Online, people interested in sports or puzzles go directly to sites with those features, avoiding exposure to news and controversy about their community. The incidental learning of a bundled metropolitan paper disappears." His article in The New Republic on the end of the newspaper is much more convincing.

Further articles in this excellent edition: Meghnad Desai portrays the Indian politician Mayawati who, as the leader of India's poorest Dalit caste in one of the country's poorest states, has realistic chances of becoming the next prime minister. A victory that would be "more impressive than Obama's". Christopher Caldwell blames the European "ideology of tolerance" for impeding the successful integration of newcomers. Edward Gottesman calls for an email tax to combat spam. Philip Hunter reports on the latest research about a gene that allows people to couple boozing with creativity. History professor Peter Baldwin looks at striking similarites between the US and Europe.

Gazeta Wyborcza 30.04.2009 (Poland)

May 1st was the 5th anniversary of Poland's EU accession. Among much patting of backs, the representative of the EU commission in Poland, Roza Thun, talks about frustrated expectations: "On my tour through Europe, I saw how everyone was counting on Poland's voice, how all the newer, smaller member states were literally waiting to hear what it would say. A French diplomat said to me: You wanted fresh blood, you wanted to inject passion into the Union. We are a little weary from all the building work, we need new ideas. Where are these ideas, where is the passion?"

Rafal Zasun wants to hear some new ideas about Polish-Russian relations. "We probably won't be able to solve the controversies about gas, history, the missile shield or other complex issues, but that doesn't mean we have to turn our backs to one another in disgust. This is the worst possible strategy." While other countries have been working hard on to butter up the reformers in the Kremlin, no one is trying to get them interested in Poland: "Our inability to win friends among the young Russian elite represents a critical failure on the behalf of our diplomats, our politicians, and our journalists who write about Russia," Zazun writes.

"If I have the right to send soldiers to the other end of the world, then I have even more right to send cameras as well. Perhaps it's even better to send cameras, it might prevent having to send in soldiers altogether," says director Krzysztof Krauze when asked why he is making a film about the genocide in Rwanda. Poland, he continues, is not the centre of the world and it can't only make films about Solidarnosc, the Round Table and the Pope: "There are lots of ways to live but ours is supposedly the only true way. And we see this in all our films. This arrogance, as if we knew the best way to live... One of these days we should just say that we don't know best. That would be interesting in and of itself. This was the essence of Kieslowski's success."

The New Statesman 30.04.2009 (UK)

Andrew Orlowski had a severe allergic reaction to Chris Anderson's new book "Free: the Future of a Radical Price", in which Anderson lays out his theory on how to save Internet freeconomics with new models of corporate cross-subsidising (here an essay about the book). Anderson's "The Long Tail" was also a classic Wired mix of "manifest destiny and opportunistic hucksterism" Orlowski says: "The implicit message was that the little people would win. Many people were so keen to believe that Web 2.0 would make the world fairer that they rejected any evidence to the contrary. It was only last year, with an exhaustive study of online music sales by the economist Will Page and an experienced digital retailer, Andrew Bud, that a more useful picture of digital markets begin to emerge. Page and Bud found that most of the songs available for purchase had never been downloaded, and that the concentration of hits was more pronounced than ever before. On the file-sharing networks, the same pattern emerged. So, carrying a huge retail inventory, though cheaper than before, was of little or no value."

The New York Times 03.05.2009 (USA)

Russell Shorto, author of an excellent book on New York's early history, now lives in Amsterdam, where he has come to feel deep sympathy for the Dutch welfare system. But he does agree with another ex-pat about one downside of collectivist society. "'If you tell a Dutch person you're going to raise his taxes by 500 euros and that it will go to help the poor, he'll say O.K.,' he said. 'But if you say he's going to get a 500-euro tax cut, with the idea that he will give it to the poor, he won't do it. The Dutch don't do such things on their own. They believe they should be handled by the system. To an American, that's a lack of individual initiative.'"

Further articles: Alex Witchel writes an epic profile of Colm Toibin, whose next novel is set in Brooklyn (here a review in the Times). President Obama himself gives an interview on his economic policy.

And the Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, reviews Richard Dowden's book "Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (hear the author reading), whose acerbic assessment of western aid to Africa, Kristof cites approvingly:"'The aid industry too has an interest in maintaining the image of Africans as hopeless victims of endless wars and persistent famines,' Dowden continues. 'However well intentioned their motives may once have been, aid agencies have helped create the single, distressing image of Africa. They and journalists feed off each other.'" - let's talk european