Features » Magazine Roundup


Magazine Roundup

Wired | Le Nouvel Observateur | The Economist | Le Monde | Tygodnik Powszechny | Lapham's Quarterly | Elet es Irodalom | n+1 | L'Espresso | The New Statesman

Wired 01.01.2010 (USA)

Thirty-two years ago James Cameron walked out of Star Wars ready to punch something. Joshua Davies met the obviously manly and megalomaniacal director who, armed with Hollywood's "fuck-you money" (his words) after "Titanic", set off on his quest to out-Lucas Lucas. Only the best and most revolutionary was good enough for his 3-D baby "Avatar": he convinced Sony to invent new digital 3D cameras, convinced cinemas to invest in new multimillion technology, surrounded himself with experts, for example, to create a language for his planet Pandora: "With the language established, Cameron set about naming everything on his alien planet. Every animal and plant received Na'vi, Latin, and common names. As if that weren't enough, Cameron hired Jodie Holt, chair of UC Riverside's botany and plant sciences department, to write detailed scientific descriptions of dozens of plants he had created. She spent five weeks explaining how the flora of Pandora could glow with bioluminescence and have magnetic properties. When she was done, Cameron helped arrange the entries into a formal taxonomy. This was work that would never appear onscreen, but Cameron loved it. He brought in more people, hiring an expert in astrophysics, a music professor, and an archaeologist. They calculated Pandora's atmospheric density and established a tripartite scale structure for the alien music. When one of the experts brought in the Star Wars Encyclopedia, Cameron glanced at it and said, 'We'll do better.'"

Le Nouvel Observateur 17.12.2009 (France)

The Nouvel Obs invited the philosophers Alain Finkielkraut and Alan Badiou, members of opposite political camps, to talk about national identity. According to Aude Lancelin who moderated the discussion, "it came to an ideological confrontation of rare violence". Badiou, who is striving for a new communism, complains that immigrants are stigmatised and launches a direct attack on his opponent: "The minaret vote by millions of moronic Swiss is just one episode in this trend and you are responsible for it. It is obvious that the intellectuals and the 'feminists' who kicked up a fuss about the headscarf twenty years ago are responsible for this minaret phenomenon... You want an ethics of responsibility? Well there you go! Now deal with it." Finkielkraut describes this attack as scandalous "but I will try not to let it upset me". The immigrants, he believes, are condemned by Badiou's "raised fist. "And this leads me to talk about the psychological profit from your constant comparisons with the black [Nazi] years. If Sarkozy is Petain, that makes you a Resistant. I wish you, you and the intellectual left which has become megalomaniac under your wing, would stop telling yourselves fairy tales."

The Economist 17.12.2009 (UK)

Its not the first time that the newspaper industry has been disrupted by communications technology, the Economist recalls. The first quake happened in 1845 – with the introduction of the telegram: "For the first time it became possible to read up-to-date business and political news within hours of its occurrence. 'We live in a transition period of society,' declared the New York Herald on May 7th 1846. ... Predictions that newspapers would henceforth favour analysis and opinion over news also got things exactly backwards. Instead, the balance tipped towards the latest news. In 1851 Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, told a British parliamentary committee that 'the quickest news is the one looked to.' Did that mean, he was asked, that 'the leading article has not then so much influence as it has in England?' No, said Greeley. 'The telegraphic dispatch is the great point.' Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, W.J. Stillman, a journalist and critic, moaned :'The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.'"

Le Monde 21.12.2009 (France)

Against a background of the debate about national identity and immigration in France, and the minaret ban in Switzerland, the Paris-based, Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun writes, in a bitter commentary, that France's Arabs and Muslim immigrants didn't become "visible" until the oil crisis, when their "foreignness" suddenly became an issue. And now France is again dreaming "the dream of the perfect immigrant": "Ah! If only they were invisible, with no smell or skin colour, quiet and, if possible, transparent! They could practise their religion silently and out of sight of the rest of us, within their own four walls. Belief would be a personal thing and would not require mosques or minarets. That's how immigrants should be - ones that don't disturb the country in any way."

Tygodnik Powszechny 20.12.2009 (Poland)

With a solo show in the London Tate Modern, Miroslaw Balka must be at the peak of his career. It began almost by coincidence in the early nineties, as the artist told the Polish newspaper: "Today it's easy to talk without complexes about the success of Polish art. But things were very different in the nineties. The world 'success' had something shameful about it, and I was somewhat privileged. Polish artists were virtually unknown and suddenly this man appeared from a country in transformation and helped redefine the situation. By coincidence I was this person, without wanting it, I became a pioneer who was followed by an entire generation."

Other stories: The historian Lukasz Kaminski looks at the progress Poland has made since 1989 in working through the "white areas" of life in the communist era, and arrives at the predictable conclusion that much remains to be done. Filip Wroblewski feels sorry for carp. According to Polish tradition, the animals in the nativity scene in Bethlehem can all talk in human voices on Christmas Eve, but the carp is served up as the traditional dish in Poland without being heard. Like the Polish proverb: fish and children don't have a say.

Lapham's Quarterly, 22.12.2009 (USA)

Rather misleadingly, Francine Prose starts her article with the oppression of Afghan women. But with Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book, "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven", to the ready, she has plenty of strong language for the contempt for women in Christianity and Judaism: "What man wouldn't have more confidence moving through the world with a submissive wife or wives shuffling like ducklings behind him? Conversely, any indication that the woman is catching up to walk alongside or, worse yet, ahead, inspires even in decent men a frenzy of maddened, injurious activity, as if one's own masculinity and the fragile social structure that masculinity has created will survive or shatter depending on whether or not a man continues to win that race. Such fears must feed the perpetual worry that one is sharing his bed with an enemy, an inferior, a repellent but necessary specimen of an alien species. And how useful religion is in helping us sort all that out! Every modern society - from Puritan New England to France under Napoleon, from Nazi Germany to Eisenhower-era America - has understood the importance, the necessity, of keeping women in their place."

Elet es Irodalom 11.12.2009 (Hungary)

Twenty years after the collapse of communism, more and more people are blaming the "founding fathers" for the mistakes and the poor reputation of democracy today. Andras Bozoki, sociologist and founding editor of the weekly paper Magyar Narancs, sees things rather differently: it's the Hungarian people who are destroying democracy themselves. Part of this, he writes, has historical reasons: in Hungary, which was occupied for centuries by various super powers, a mindset developed which regards formal rules as something that only need to be seem to be kept. Things were no different under Kadar, and this is why it is so difficult to overcome this mindset. "The Kadar system was a 'soft dictatorship' because it was softened by lies. It was more bearable than other dictatorships because even the system often did not take its rules seriously. This gave rise to system of formal and informal rules, through which Hungarians had to navigate. The corruption of the dictatorship sweetened the system, but this doesn't mean that a system is only good when it's corrupt. The soft dictatorship led to a soft transition to democracy, whose conditions society is trying to soften with the old methods again. But democracy does not get sweeter through corruption, but sour and bitter."

n+1 07.12.2009 (USA)

Novelist and n+1 newspaper founder Benjamin Kunkel reports on his trip to Patagonia. He even visited the famous Perito Moreno glacier: "Everyone speaks in a hushed voice, as in a museum. There is inevitably a funereal quality to visiting a glacier today. At length in a group of twenty people, after another great flake of ice has plunged into the bay, making for a huge cavity, then a surge of frigid water where it fell, it seems no one is speaking at all. The sound of the calving like a heavy artillery range …"

L'Espresso 18.12.2009 (Italy)

After the attack on Silvio Berlusconi, members of parliament are hurling polemic at the so-called Berlusconi hate campaigns on the Internet. Andrea Botta calls on his compatriots to join the Christmas Eve demonstrations in Rome against the plans of the centre-right to control and limit Internet access. "In recent months a number of centre-right-politicians have been trying to pass new laws to reduce online freedom. (...) No one knows yet exactly what's written in the draft bill that the Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni threatened in response to the Tartaglia case." (Massimo Tartaglia hit Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on December 13 with a statuette, breaking his nose.) "The closure of a number of Facebook groups has provoked further outrage. Several Berlusconi hate sites may have been closed but dozens are still up and running (for example: Kill Balotelli). There is talk about introducing restrictions but also about working directly with providers (Google, YouTube, Facebook etc.) to close unwanted sites. Vice-Minister Paolo Romani has created a buzz by suggesting that livestream content should subjected to private TV regulation. Apart from clipping the wings of hundreds of blogs and websites, this also represents a conflict of interest for the premier, because it would benefit big business which is also trying to offer its content online - like Mediaset, for example, which is preparing to launch a site much like the American video site Hulu."

The New Statesman 17.12.2009 (UK)

Leo McKinstry once again throws open the issue of the rationale behind the British bombing of German cities during WWII. Having scoured a number of archives, he concludes that the hundreds of thousands of German victims were not killed by accident but deliberation: "Typical was a paper, now in the archives of Cambridge University, written in August 1941 by the bombing operations directorate of the air ministry. This argued that the focus of future British attacks must be 'the people in their homes and in factories, also the services such as electricity, gas and water upon which the industrial and domestic life of the area depends'. Warming to this theme, the directorate then found support for such theories in the Luftwaffe's bombing of Coventry. To most Britons, this attack had been an outrage. To the Air Staff, it was an inspiration. The assault on Coventry, argued the paper, was 'one of the most successful raids carried out by the German Air Force on this country', with a ton of high explosive and incendiaries for every 800 citizens. 'If Bomber Command could carry out a raid on the Coventry scale every month, the result would be a complete state of panic in the industrialised west of Germany', as well as 'considerable loss of life and limb, widespread destruction and damage to the houses of workers'." - let's talk european