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03/11/2009

Magazine Roundup

OpenDemocracy | HVG | London Review of Books | The Walrus Magazine | El Pais Semanal | The Nation | Literaturen | The Guardian | Polityka | Dawn | Frontline | Le Monde | Elet es Irodalom | The New Yorker

OpenDemocracy 01.11.2009 (UK)

Anti-American sentiments in Iran are now turning anti-Russian, as the Iranian author R Tousi explains: "'The Russians are microwaving our brains.' The comment of my corner-shopkeeper in Tehran reflects a widely-held view about the state's use of powerful jamming signals to block foreign media. The blocking of key communication links has played a big part in the violent crackdown that followed Iran's election of 12 June 2009. The possible health risks of these newly installed devices have even been raised inside Iran's majlis (parliament); Zohreh Elahian, a member of the national-security and foreign-policy committee, responded to reporters' questions about a possible increase in miscarriages by promising that the figures would be examined.The fact that the state's jamming devices are made in Russia adds a nationalist tinge to popular suspicions, and explains my shopkeeper's pithy remark. Our 70-something neighbour goes further: she believes that the 'Russian waves' will soon kill her off, and blames them too for the demise of the capital's sparrows (whose suffocation is rather the work of Tehran's smog over the years). It's hard to say when and how such the 'Russian' twist to this story began." In 1906 perhaps?


HVG 31.10.2009 (Hungary)

After more than ten years of debate, the Hungarian government has finally given the green light to a new civil code. The lawyer Andras Hanak finds it too impenetrable, but he does welcomes the increased freedom of the press which it heralds. "On the one hands the law will see an end to the absurd notion that reporters and newspapers can be called to account when citing anything word for word or reporting on public events. On the other hand, the new civil code will raise 'tolerance levels' when it comes to criticism of public figures. If untruths are published about such people, the author of the report will only be obliged to make correction and issue compensation if he can be shown to have published the untruths deliberately or due to gross negligence. This gives the press the right to commit well-intended errors. The solution brings Hungarian law a step closer to the practice of the European Court of Justice on human rights. And however contentious the new civil code may be – these two changes (as long as they are enforced by the law) will benefit readers and citizens."

London Review of Books 05.11.2009 (UK)

The London Review of Books celebrates its big 30 – and is generous enough to open its gates and give free online access to the entire edition! Here the complete overview – and here our favourites:

Jaqueline Rose has read a batch of new books published in the UK on "honour killings". She was particularly shaken by the case of Fadime Sahindal, whose case Unni Wikan describes in detail. Fadime reached out to the mass media for help – but in vain. She was murdered by her father when she returned to the family home in Uppsala, Sweden. "If this case is so powerful, and more than justifies the meticulous attention Wikan gives to it, it is because Fadime is also driven by another vision of social obligation. She is speaking for the invisible women of her community. In this she is in harmony with Rana Husseini, one of whose main objectives in reporting case after case – also at huge personal risk – is to make sure that every single instance of honour killing becomes news. Each of these three books can be read as a form of devotion: they are at once tributes and campaigns. To write about honour killing is in the first instance simply to demand that these crimes be talked about and seen."

Julian Barnes reviews two newly published translations of Maupassant books, and quotes from a letter the disillusioned writer sent Flaubert at the tender age of 28: "Fucking women is as monotonous as listening to male wit. I find that the news in the papers is always the same, that the vices are trivial, and that there aren't enough different ways to compose a sentence."

Further articles: In her diary notes, Jenny Diski looks at the Polanski case from a very different, personal, angle: "In 1961 I was raped by an American in London. I was 14, a year older than the girl Polanski gave half a Quaalude and champagne to, then had oral, vaginal and anal sex with." Hilary Mantel reads Brian Dillon's book "Tormented Hope" on the life of hypochondriacs. Peter Campbell visits the exhibition in the British Museum on the Aztec ruler "Moctezuma", and Michael Wood watched Agnes Varda's autobiographical film "The Beaches of Agnes".


The Walrus Magazine 02.11.2009 (Canada)

Noah Richler spent seven years trembling at the thought of the Internet destroying the printed book, before finally meeting the person who would turn his fear around. Of all people it was someone who appeared from the rubble of the music industry: Jeffrey Remedios, the founder of a tiny record label "Arts&Crafts Records", has learned to love iTunes. "When I ask him what advice he would offer book publishers about to confront a new digital reality, he says, 'Don't fear change. Embrace it. Allow the technologies to remould your role. There is no future as a gatekeeper of the status quo.' Remedios believes that, in time, the music industry will sell subscriptions to a library from which consumers will be able to download what they want, when they want — a consumer's 'pull' heaven."


El Pais Semanal 01.11.2009 (Spain)

Javier Cercas has a few words of advice for any of his fellow Spaniards who may be rolling up their sleeves: "I have quoted Alejandro Rossi on the subject at least a hundred times and I will, no doubt, quote him as many times again. Rossi said that tolerance means not confusing an intellectual with a moral error. In other words, you and I might not agree but it doesn't mean that either of us is an arsehole – it just means that one of us is wrong, or one of us is nearer to the truth than the other. Fernando Savater, for his part, pointed out that it's nonsense to believe that tolerance means you have to respect all ideas; after all, there are clearly ideas that deserve respect and ideas that are completely unacceptable. You just have to respect the people who hold these ideas."


The Nation 28.10.2009 (USA)

Richard Byrne takes a new biography of the man behind "WR:Mysteries of the Organism" as an opportunity to re-examine one of the most perplexing mysteries of world cinema: why the Yugoslav director, Dusan Makavejev, has not made a new film in fifteen years. Makavejev's penultimate film 'Gorilla Bathes at Noon' (released 1993) was inspired by Erich Honecker's declaration that the wall would last fifty or a hundred years, but it fell before the script was finished. "With his improvisatory skills, Makavejev fashioned a film that has only become more profound with the passage of time. ... A propelling the tale of a Russian soldier named Viktor Borisovich (Svetozar Cvetkovic), who finds himself left behind in post-wall Berlin by accident when his unit is called home to the Soviet Union. (...) In its final scene, Cvetkovic is at the Brandenburg Gate, explicitly identified as an actor, munching on an apple and hawking his uniform to tourists as a souvenir, just as many other castaway Russians in Berlin did at the time. The closing voiceover twists that knife a bit more: 'Where is Viktor Borisovich? I'm asking myself the same question. And I am getting no answer.' With the cold war over, one senses that Makavejev has lost his great theme as well. And even if Makavejev had wanted to return to his roots and explore the messy contradictions of the country that had formed him, the Yugoslavia of his early films had vanished, like Atlantis, in a sea of blood."


Literaturen 01.11.2009 (Germany)

Rene Aguigah reviews two new books by Michael Hampe and Kwame Anthony Appia, which deal with happiness and how to achieve it. Aguigah starts by citing Richard David Precht (Germany's Alain de Botton): "Philosopher and bestseller author Richard David Precht noted unequivocally that questions of happiness marked the birth of occidental philosophy, but that real existing university philosophy today has lost sight of such concerns and have left them to the self-help guides. Aristotle knew that all people strive for happiness – not luck in games or other coincidences, but for eudaimonia. This, he believed, was the highest of all goods, and it was also the subject of his 'Nicomachean Ethics'. Philosophers today comment on other philosophers. The question philosophers ask today is not how one can live life successfully but how, for example, to become a neo-Aristotelian."


The Guardian 31.10.2009 (UK)

Hari Kunzru has written an excellent article about the films of Michael Haneke that doubles as an overview of Austrian history from the Nazis to Jφrg Haider. Seen in this context, Haneke's unpleasantness, as well that of Thomas Bernard and Elfriede Jelinke makes a lot more sense. Kunzru also makes an interesting comparison betwen Haneke's "Code Unknown" and the "mawkish and fundamentally dishonest multi-stranded narrative films recently popular in Hollywood" from the likes of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, P.T. Anderson and Paul Haggis. "In these films, chance, coincidence and small personal epiphanies are woven into quasi-religious parables about providence and fate. This cheap transcendentalism offers a kind of fake consolation, an apolitical quietism which Code Unknown rejects out of hand. Sometimes communication fails, actions are meaningless, and redemption is out of stock at the supermarket. Questions about our ethical duties to one another cannot, for Haneke, be resolved by the application of a little aesthetic glitter. Instead they must be wrestled with, fought for, and the viewer must actively participate, instead of passively consuming the awe-inspiring spectacle of networked existence. In this, Haneke's technique seems to relate to Roberto Bolano's vast (and equally bleak) novel 2666, which asks the reader to work at connecting disjointed narratives, much of the meaning residing in the "silences" between its various sections."

The reviews cover two Trotsky biographies from Robert Service and Bertrand M. Patenaude, and Eugene Rogan's history of the Arabs.


Polityka 30.10.2009 (Poland)

In Poland, it often seems as if "only one set of ethics count: Roman Catholic ethics," writes Adam Szostkiewicz with marked disdain (here in German) "If a bishop rings up a member of parliament and tells him how to vote on artificial insemination, and if, of 30,000 Polish schools only 300 offer ethics instead of Bible studies, what we have is a fundamental problem with democratic standards and with the idea of an open society, which we are supposedly striving towards. In this climate not pluralism but monopoly thrives. And the church is implementing its ethical monopoly in schools, the media and politics by exploiting the conformist nature of large swathes of the political class and the population."


Dawn 30.10.2009 (Pakistan)

Arundhati Roy rallies to the defence of India's Maoist guerillas, against whom India's government is planning a large-scale offensive. In her depiction of the situation, the impoverished tribals of the Dongria Kond are fighting against plans by the mining company Vedanta to plunder their holy hills for bauxite: "They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades. If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have — their land."


Frontline 24.10.2009 (India)

Frontline dedicates an entire dossier to the Indian government's plans to hit the Maoist guerillas with major offensive. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan describes in detail every attack by the guerrillas in recent months, including a number of Taliban-like executions of police officers. In an interview Koteswar Rao, one of the Maoist leaders, explains why, contrary to an agreement two years ago, the guerillas have not stopped murdering individuals. "At that time, annihilation of the class enemy was the only form adopted to bring about the revolution. We have changed that. We say that annihilation is one of the forms. This was not invented by Maoists; we have seen in history that the masses have always allowed it. To us, annihilation is one aspect of our total movement."

Prakash Karat, leader of the Marxist opposition party, rejects the Maoist strategy in an interview: "They harp on India being still a semi-colonial country; their politics is based on the gun and the use of violence, which essentially disrupts the working class movement and mass mobilisation. By indulging in senseless violence mainly directed at its political opponents, the Maoists end up helping the state to come down heavily on the people they claim to champion."


Le Monde 02.11.2009 (France)

During his time as a dissident, Vaclav Havel writes in an essay on 1989 and all that in Le Monde, he received endless visits from western journalists, who were astounded that someone could fight such a stable and all-powerful system. Then the Wall fell and he was as surprised as everyone else. "We tried to behave like free people, telling the truth, acting as witnesses to the situation in our country. We were not hungry for power. Due to a lack of alternatives we assumed power, but not without embarrassment. And in that moment something very interesting happened: lots of people who had functioned in silence all those years, even lots of people who thought all our efforts were in vain, suddenly started accusing us of being ill prepared to play our role in history."


Elet es Irodalom
22.10.2009 (Hungary)

The journalist Janos Szeky criticises the Hungarian term "transition" to describe the end of the Cold War and its consequences. The word expresses the transition to democracy but not to capitalism. The politicians kept very quiet during "the transition" about the risks of capitalism, which resulted in an irrational anti-capitalism: "This is not a normal left-leaning form of anti-capitalism, it's a particular Hungarian strain. Many Hungarians are convinced that capitalism is a communist and therefore un-Hungarian invention. This is not that surprising, because in Hungary (unlike other states in the region), the transition to capitalism mostly took place under the supervision of the state party. (...) The lack of reflection about this transition meant that the Hungarians, including the intellectuals, suffered it rather than had any say in its implementation. Capitalism for them is linked to 'the others' (foreigners, Jews, communists). They see the driving force behind it not as business interests but conspiracy. It does not bring freedom but slavery, not prosperity but impoverishment of the masses. Not a link to the world through globalisation, but being ripped off by 'the others'.

The New Yorker (USA), 09.11.2009

James Surowiecki reports on the price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon over online books. Except that it isn't what it seems, as Wal-Mart is not out to steal readers from Amazon, but to get them out of the bookshops and onto their website where they can sell them other stuff. Even if publishers and book sellers are making exaggerated claims that the dumping prices will kill the industry, they are right about one thing: "The real competition in this price war is not between Wal-Mart and Amazon but between those behemoths and everyone else—and the damage everyone else is incurring is deliberate, not collateral. Wal-Mart and Amazon have figured out how to fight a price war and win: make sure someone else takes the blows. "

Further articles: In a letter from Gaza, Lawrence Wright investigates what actually happened during Israel's attack at the beginning of the year. Elizabeth Kolbert reviews the first work of non-fiction by the young writer Jonathan Safran Foer: an analysis of the contradictions of vegetarianism, "Eating Animals" (Little, Brown). Jill Lepore introduces two studies on murder: in "American Homicide" (Harvard), Randolph Roth tries to elucidate why America is so "murderous"; and the Dutchman Pieter Spierenburg looks at "A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present" (Polity).

Anthony Lane went to the pictures to see Grant Haslov's comedy "The Men Who Stare At Goats" starring Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, and Lee Daniels's awkwardly-titled teen drama, "Precious: based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire (sic). There's also is also a short story "Premium Harmony" by Steven King and poems by Katie Ford and Glyn Maxwell.
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