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28/07/2009

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Polityka | Prospect | Nepszabadsag | The Economist | L'Espresso | Al Ahram Weekly | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Review of Books
The New Yorker 03.08.2009 (USA)

In a wonderfully ironic yet highly informative article the writer Nicholson Baker describes his reading experiences with Amazon's Kindle 2. He systematically examines technology, function, reading options and compares his findings with the device's printed counterpart. Initially revolted by the "greenish, sickly, postmortem gray" of the screen, he eventually finds himself being sucked in – by a book with a high-caffeine plot. "I began pressing the Next Page clicker more and more eagerly, so eagerly that my habit of page turning, learned from years of reading—which is to reach for the page corner a little early, to prepare for the movement—kicked in unconsciously. I clicked Next Page as I reached the beginning of the last line, and the page flashed to black and changed before I'd read it all. I was trying to hurry the Kindle. You mustn't hurry the Kindle. But, hell, I didn't care. The progress bar at the bottom said I was ninety-one per cent done. I was at location 7547. I was flying along. Gray is a good color, I thought."

Further articles: Joan Acocella reviews a book about Judas Iscariot: "Judas: A Biography". "Self-consciously laid-back and funky", is how Louis Menand describes Thomas Pynchon's new book "Inherent Vice", a detective novel with a private eye named Larry (Doc) Sportello. David Denby watched Judd Apatow's autobiographically-bent comedy "Funny People". There is also a short story "The Valetudinarian" by Joshua Ferris and poems by C.K. Williams and Rae Armantrout.


Polityka 27.07.2009 (Poland)

In a highly moving article the physicist Janusz Ostrowski describes (here in the German version) his experience of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as a fireman. The Polish fire brigade was hired by the Germans to ensure that the houses with people in them were razed to the ground, while those containing goods remained standing. One day the firement discovered some young girls crying for help in a burning house. "The sergeant ordered us to ascertain whether szkopy (German Soldaten) or szaulisy (a derogatory term for Lithuanian, Latvian, or Ukrainian guards) were nearby. Once we'd given the all clear, he said: 'Any one who wants to can head for the other truck, but if you're feeling brave, we going to them out of there.' Three men headed off. Jurek said: 'I'm not risking my life for a couple of Jewesses who the Germans are going to kill sooner or later, if not here then somewhere else. There's no point. And if you get them out the szaulisy will come along, rape the prettiest ones and shoot the rest! This is an idiotic risk of life.' And he left. Somewhat hesitantly, as if he was ashamed. I agreed with him in principle. But the sergeant caught my eye and then, looking up at the windows, he said: 'A fireman can't let people burn.'"


Prospect 01.08.2009 (UK)

James Crabtree reports on a full-scale media revolution in Pakistan where TV channels have multiplied from 1 to 100 almost overnight. On Pakistan's independence day in 2002, Geo became the country's first private TV channel and it has courted controversy ever since. It allowed "Pakistanis [to] see their nation's dramas live for the first time: Kashmir's deadly 2005 earthquake; the 2007 siege of Islamabad's red mosque; the 2008 shoot-out in Mumbai; and US drone strikes and numerous domestic suicide attacks... Phone-ins tackled taboo subjects, from incest to wife beating. Shia and Sunni clerics debated doctrine. Shaadi Online, a spin on Blind Date, scandalised conservatives as women quizzed potential husbands. And religious talk show Aalim Online upset liberals by letting mullahs rant about the Jews and the Hindus."

Other articles: Charles Grant fears that China's hardliners are gaining strength. Peter Popham thinks he has discovered the secret to Berlusconi's popularity: a lack of alternatives.


Nepszabadsag 25.07.2009 (Hungary)

At the beginning of July a court in Budapest pfficially banned the fascist Hungarian Guard, but it is still not clear whether the police should move in to enforce the ban. In this hiatus, poet and critic Akos Szilagyi wonders whether sympathies for the guards might not be increasing among the population. "This militarily-organised and politically-motivated private violence is not directed only against particular criminalised or mythologised 'breachers of the peace', but against the very order of society and the constitution. Democracy and the rule of law seem directly or indirectly to be the source of every form of chaos. And yet democracies know no greater nor graver breach of the peace than an attack on the rule of law. The historical catastrophes of the 20th century show that in cases where the rule of law is effectively rendered powerless by a uniformed 'ideological order' or a nationalistic or racist order, the way is paved for the most severe breach of the peace, in the form of civil wars and mass murderous dictatorships."

The Economist 27.07.2009 (UK)

Over a full 36 pages the Economist examines the state of the Arab world today, and finds a "quiet revolution" underway in society – although it will not be complete until the last failed dictatorships have been voted out. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recently delivered a devastating report on the situation, which concludes: "They have failed to make their people free: six Arab countries have an outright ban on political parties and the rest restrict them slyly. They have failed to make their people rich: despite their oil, the UN reports that about two out of five people in the Arab world live on 2 dollars or less a day. They have failed to keep their people safe: the report argues that overpowerful internal security forces often turn the Arab state into a menace to its own people. And they are about to fail their young people. The UNDP reckons the Arab world must create 50m new jobs by 2020 to accommodate a growing, youthful workforce—virtually impossible on present trends."

(Find an overview of all articles on the subject in the top right-hand corner.)


L'Espresso 24.07.2009 (Italy)

In 2007 Pope Benedikt XVI wrote a letter to the Chinese Catholics calling for unity and stamina. The Vatican has now followed this up by publishing a compendium in the Internet (pdf) in which the Pope once again touches on all the important questions concerning the Church in China. Thank God, says the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, Giuseppe Zen Zekiun, on his website. Because an "false translation" of the letter has been circulating in China, which has had catastrophic consequences for the Church, as Sandro Magister reports: "According to Cardinal Zen, the worst problems concern the passage which deals with the official recognition of the underground Christians in China by the Communist authorities. Many people have interpreted the Pope's letter as a summons to the underground churches and their bishops to come out of hiding and apply for official recognition from the state." In his online commentary, Cardinal Zen blames this "tendentious translation" for the splintering of the Catholic Church. "This is why we are forced to witness this painful spectacle: bishops and priests, who believe that they are following the directive of the Holy Father, are making huge efforts to forge an agreement with the government, and are retreating in the face of the unacceptable conditions laid down by the government. This process has cost the clergy much of its former closeness." Zen does not mention who might have put the misleading translation into circulation. But he does say that the Communist government blocked the correct translation. "The officially recognised 'patriotic association of Chinese Catholics' banned the [correctly translated] version of the letter. Several scholars who distributed it were imprisoned. The Chinese websites which posted the letter were forced to shut down. The full version of the letter in Mandarin, which is available on the Vatican's Chinese website, cannot be accessed in China."


Al Ahram Weekly 23.07.2009 (Egypt)

Youssef Rakha talks to the novelist Ibrahim Farghali (more here) about contemporary Arab literature and his latest novel "Abnaa Al-Gabalwi" (Sons of Al-Gabalawi) which, for Rakha, is "the closest we have come to a fulfilment of the prophecy that a home-grown magic realist movement would emerge in the new millennium." "'Of course Saramago, for me, is the literary model,' Farghali says. 'To write a long, big, subtly conveyed text through which to say everything. And with the highest degree of artistic excellency possible, to create a large idea that accommodates numerous smaller ideas, juxtaposes styles and discordant voices. My ambition is a text that could be read and enjoyed and reread and still enjoyed by an ordinary reader as well as a member of the literary elite. It's an ambition like Dostoevsky's and Saramago's, and I hope I don't sound vain when I say this. I think I had been practising since Ibtisamat Al-Qiddissin,' his 2006 novel, translated by Andy Smart and Nadia Fouad-Smart as 'The Smiles of the Saints', 'to produce a text of this level.'"

Hani Mustafa reviews Yousri Nasrallah's Film "Ihki Ya Scheherazade" (Tell it, Scheherazade), which describes male dominance in Egyptian society. "A little thinking is all it takes to realise that the title of this film is actually very accurate, implying both that the drama will depend on storytelling and that storytelling is a form of resistance to male domination. Even the structure of the film is close to the old book in that it too depends on stories such as those Scheherazade told Prince Shahraiar every night to prevent him from killing her. The lead character in the film, Heba (Mona Zaki) is a TV presenter who, when her husband interferes in what she may or may not present on her programmes, decides, like Scheherazade, to tell the stories of Egyptian society."


Elet es Irodalom 17.07.2009 (Hungary)

Hungary is engulfed in a discussion about legalising prostitution. For Anna Betlen, an economist and government advisor who also works for the Hungarian Women's Foundation MONA, it is impossible to separate prostitution from human trafficking and violence. Ultimately the punter wants a form of sex which degrades the woman as an object. This cannot happen without violence (either physically or psychologically). The connection between human trafficking and prostitution becomes clear, says Betlen, if you look at the percentage of overwhelmingly foreign and under-age prostitutes involved in legalised prostitution in Western countries. "Recently," she writes, "I received a phone call from a reporter from the Swiss channel TV2, who asked me what sort of a bizarre patriarchal subculture was at work in the North East Hungarian towns of Püspökladany and Berettyoujfalu that supplied brothels in Zurich with so many child prostitutes? So I asked him what sort of bizarre patriarchal subculture was at work in Zurich that created such a demand for so many women and girls from Eastern Hungary, instead of – say - Jonagold apples."


The New York Review of Books 13.08.2009 (USA)

"Just as the advent of printing helped break the medieval Church's hold on the flow of information, so is the rise of the Internet loosening the grip of the corporate-owned mass media," believes Michael Messing, and observes a shift from institutional clout towards individual journalists: bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and Mickey Kaus, or new journalistic forms like Talking Points Memo, Pro Publica, the HuffPo and Daily Kos. "The image of the Internet as parasite has some foundation. Without the vital news-gathering performed by established institutions, many Web sites would sputter and die. In their sweep and scorn, however, such statements seem as outdated as they are defensive. Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise."

Adam Hochschild travels through war-torn Congo where he learns what turns people into "rapists, sadists and murderers": "Greed, fear, demagogic leaders and their claim that such violence is necessary for self-defense, seeing everyone around you doing the same thing—and the fact that the rest of the world pays tragically little attention to one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time."

Further articles: Hilton Als writes a rather circuitous article about Michael Jackson and homophobia in the black communities: "There's the bizarre fact that queerness reads, even to some black gay men themselves, as a kind of whiteness". Roger Cohen recapitulates events in Iran and refuses to abandon hope of democratic change.
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