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26/01/2010

Magazine Roundup

Das Magazin | The Spectator | Sinn und Form | New Humanist | ResetDoc | Eurozine | openDemocracy | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Nation | London Review of Books | Nepszabadsag | The Guardian | Al Ahram Weekly | The New York Review of Books


Das Magazin 24.01.2010 (Switzerland)

In Switzerland the number of pupils who threatened to gun down their fellow pupils doubled from 2008 to 2009, reports Rico Czerwinski. Interestingly many of these threats come from pupils who see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators. And their parents often back them up. When [the Swiss threat psychologist Hermann] Blöchlinger met the mother of Michael, a 14-year old who threatened to shoot a fellow pupil in an online chat, she blamed him, Hermann Blöchlinger, for threatening the future of her son. Frau H. was completely blind to any guilt or misdemeanour on her son's part. The others were solely to blame. Yes, there had been strife, of course Michi had to defend himself, the others were constantly haranguing and bullying him, and he had even been expelled from school. Of course his threats were not mean seriously. 'The mother failed to understand that such threats would have consequences. She seemed oblivious to the effect that such threats would have on others. I noticed that these threats were linked to certain character traits that were often shared by the parents,' says Hermann Blöchlinger."

And Georg Diez profiles the 17-year-old Helene Hegemenn, author of the heavily-hyped novel "Axolotl Roadkill", which describes how difficult it is for teenagers to rebel if their parents are rebels.


The Spectator 22.01.2010 (UK)

Gordon Brown's plan to introduce bonus supertax has got half of the City of London packing its bags for Geneva and Zurich, as Martin Vander Weyer reports. "If you're already at the point of trying to decide which of the two Swiss financial centres is the one for you, here’s a quick seminar from me. Both are stultifyingly small compared to London, and critically short of office space. The private banker Hans J. Baer's memoir 'It's Not All About Money' is a useful guide to the xenophobic dullness of gnome-town Zurich. Geneva is more cosmopolitan, and you can have a fine entrecote frites at the Cafe de Paris in the rue du Mont Blanc — but there's also the risk of being shot dead by your dominatrix while wearing a latex catsuit, as happened to the financier Edouard Stern in his apartment in the rue de Villereuse in 2005. On balance, I'd recommend staying in Mayfair." (With a mouth full of orange perhaps?).


Sinn und Form 25.01.2010 (Germany)

Literature professor Marc Fumaroli writes an essay on Italian literary critic Mario Praz, author of the famous book on "Romantic Agony" (more here). Praz died in 1982, but plenty of his colleagues still cross themselves today if they hear his name mentioned. An excerpt is available online and it begins thus: "Mario Praz. Until recently (although he died in 1982) the mere mention of his name was enough to make the Italian opposite me cover my mouth with one hand and cross himself with the other. Innominabile! Whereupon this foreigner, who was clueless and careless enough to mention the occult, was showered with stories of varying levels of tragedy illustrating the cataclysmic powers of the 'unnameable', whose name still inspired fear. Nomen, numen. These ranged from an all-out power cut at a party which the professor had just left, to an accident that befell some poor unfortunate who had crossed the path of the ghastly jettatore."

There is also an excerpt from an essay by Stefan George biographer Thomas Karlauf, examining the link between George, Stauffenberg and Hitler. And a further excerpt from the memoirs of Rudolf Wagner-Regeny at the end of WWII.


New Humanist 01.01.2010 (UK)

It is not only Islam that deserves criticism, but religion itself, as the Irish sex abuse scandal of young children by priests and nuns shows only too clearly. Laurie Taylor reads the recently published Report of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin and remembers his own school days at a Catholic boarding school in Northern Ireland, where sexual molestation by the priests was commonplace. He had a friend who, being prettier, suffered much more: "We talked to each other about what was going on. We knew that it was not right but both of us were caught in the trap that has been described so well by other victims of the Catholic priesthood. Our deeply ingrained religious beliefs made it almost impossible to believe that priests could be anything other than holy men. Somehow we must be the sinners."

And philosopher AC Grayling talks to his colleague Tzvetan Todorov who, despite having written a book "In Defence of the Enlightenment", still has reservations about human rights. "I observe and I think that's why I have this sceptical view, that human rights nowadays are used as a kind of instrument for justifying our Western superiority. And as soon as we observe that somewhere rights are not exactly accepted in the same way, we consider these countries definitely inferior and maybe even deserving punishment." For John Gray, who reviewed the book, Todorov is still a fundamentalist of the Enlightenment though.


ResetDoc 15.01.2010 (Italy)

Resetdoc prints an open letter (in English) to the General Director of Unesco, Irina Bokova, demanding that she withdraw her decision to hold the World Philosophy Day in Iran: "We believe that Iran's candidature for the coming edition should not be considered as a normal rotation of location, since we are sadly aware, due to a very close experience, how one can be imprisoned and risk one's life in Iran because of one's ideas. The young woman who last June became a symbol of protest after the elections, Neda Agha Soltan, held degrees in theological studies and in secular philosophy."

Here a list of the signatories.


Eurozine 21.01.2010 (Austria)

James Hawes sings (here in English) a melancholy love song to Prague, one of Europe's most beautiful historic cities which also happens to be most like Las Vegas. And it has a history so complex that repression is essential for survival. "Of all the symbols of this repressed Czech-German-Jewish history, the most memorable is the asylum for mentally-damaged war-wounded, founded largely by Kafka himself in 1916-17 and still extant more or less as he left it, in a place which was, in Kafka's day, rather wonderfully called Frankenstein. Now, you would imagine, would you not, that Dr Kafka's Asylum for Mentally-Damaged Soldiers in Frankenstein would be an irresistible magnet for young film-makers? In fact, it is entirely unknown to the tourist trade and scarcely more known to scholars, despite its being the one actual relic of Kafka's life that would truly support his quasi-saintly image. (...) Why is the place so ignored? I think the answer is simple: because this was a German-speaking area until 1945, and Kafka's mental hospital was (by his own express avowal) founded exclusively for German-speaking soldiers. The good soldier Schweyk, however shell-shocked, would simply not have made Kafka's linguistic cut."


OpenDemocracy 21.01.2010 (UK)

For Johnny Ryan and Stefan Halper, the Google vs China conflict is a secular conflict between nerd capitalism, with its ideals of freedom, and an authoritarian state capitalism a la chinoise. And it is hardly as if Google is just letting go of a market where it had failed, the authors write: "If Google ceases to operate in China then Baidu will almost certainly profit, and could pose a strategic threat to Google's business beyond China in coming decades. The boosting of Baidu's share-price by almost 14 percent on 13 January 2010, the day after Google revealed its new approach, may be an early indication of future trends."

The magazine also features a pleasantly optimistic conversation about Russia's chances of democratisation. Participating are Boris Dolgin from polit.ru magazine and the foreign policy expert Dmitry Trenin, who is keen for Russia to form a close relationship with the EU: "In my view, Russia is not going to be able to modernise unless it develops a very close relationship with the European Union. In economic, social, humanitarian and other aspects. It's also going to have to cooperate with the United States when it comes to security matters, it'll have to develop a real partnership, I mean, one worthy of the name. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't work with China, Japan, Korea etc. But cooperation with Europe will be the engine of that process, from a humanitarian, economic and social point of view."


Tygodnik Powszechny 24.01.2010 (Poland)

What have writers gained from freedom? Nothing but a loss of standing and commercialisation, as the old grievance goes? Since 1989 literature has profited from terrific new forms of expression, argues the author and literary critic Inga Iwasiow. "I cannot list all the swings, themes, aesthetics and rituals of the past twenty years. It is as difficult to catalogue these developments, as it is impossible to claim that we are all struggling with the primacy of the media and that writers have lost their role as experts on values, politics and the human psyche. It's just that so much more is going on; achievements and losses go hand in hand. So much more is going than what we want to see when we talk about our loss of standing and our marginalisation in commercialised world of the entertainment industry and the media." Instead of complaining about loss of status, Iwasiow recommends that writers go to the provinces where they will actually be able to meet interested readers instead of trying to curry favour with TV audiences.


The Nation 21.01. 2010 (USA)

Columnist and poet Katha Pollitt draws attention to the plight of 24-year-old IT specialist Nazia Quazi, a Canadian-Indian citizen who has been unable to leave Saudi Arabia since going there with her parents two years ago. According to Saudi Arabian law, she needs the permission of her father to leave, but he won't comply. But Pollitt is most outraged by the Canadian authorities who have turned a blind eye. "More than one person I've talked with has suggested that the fact that the Quazis are Muslim is relevant: the [Canadian] embassy in Riyadh doesn't want to get involved in what it apparently views as a Muslim family dispute. At one level, it is that. Nazia's father won't take my calls, but I've spoken with her older brother, ... and with her employer, a friend of her father's who claims he is trying to broker a solution. To them the fact that Nazia is a 24-year-old college graduate is irrelevant, as are her feelings, her fears, her wishes and her rights. What matters is her father's disapproval of her boyfriend. But that's a problem for the Quazis. It's not a reason for Canada to allow Nazia to be deprived of her rights. How far have women come if a democratic, secular country like Canada permits a father to imprison his adult daughter in the cage of Saudi laws?" Here Nazia tells her story in her own words.


London Review of Books 28.01.2010 (UK)

In a profile of psychiatric patient Iris Robinson, the politician who first rocked Northern Ireland (and probably also her husband) with her pronouncement on homosexuality ("an abomination") and then with her affair with a 19-year-old and the money she soliticed on his behalf, author Anne Enright asks: "How far up is a woman allowed to go? Is it mad for a woman from a council estate to adorn her new villa with hand-painted murals, to decorate each room according to a different theme (Oriental, Scottish, Italian). Is it a bit manic to have, in your study, a hand-carved, ten-foot-high, three-ton stone fireplace which you have had specially designed and installed? Is it unhinged to order wallpaper hand-printed with the quotation 'Non magni pendis quia contigit' ('one does not value things easily obtained') – or is it only counter-productive, because it shows so clearly that you left school at 16?"

Further articles: Daniel Soar wonders about the failure of the secret services database which enabled underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab to board a plane to Detroit. After reading Stefan Zweig's "The World of Yesterday", Michael Hofmann writes a portrait of the author. Perry Anderson reads a new book on the China's rise to global power. Jeremy Harding reviews two new books about the 1910 flood in Paris. And Michael Wood was moderately impressed by James Cameron's fantasy extravaganza "Avatar".


Nepszabadsag 23.01.2010 (Hungary)

Hungarians are disappointed by democracy because they have failed to understand what it means, according to behavioural researcher Vilmos Csanyi, and suggests they make a renewed effort to get their heads around the idea before the elections in April. "Most people think democracy is an institutionalised do-gooder, which hands out rights, supports the needy and shows people the way to the generally accepted good. [...] But democracy is nothing more than a sophisticated cultural institution for the regulation of biological aggression and as such, perhaps the most important invention in human culture."


The Guardian 23.01. 2010 (UK)

To coincide with a forthcoming exhibition in London's Tate Modern, Simon Mawer looks at why an artist as influential and brilliant as Theo van Doesburg became nothing but a footnote in the history of the avant garde. A close friend of Mondrian's, they produced almost identical paintings for a while, until van Doesburg dared to introduce diagonals and caused a rift between them. "Both artists evolved out of the Dutch figurative tradition into complete abstraction at exactly the same time, but while Mondrian remained with his bleak, geometric painting throughout his life, Van Doesburg had other ideas, dozens of them. You reach out to grab Mondrian and what have you got? An abstract painter, rather solitary, rather austere. You try the same thing with Van Doesburg and he's as slippery as an eel. Painter, poet, art critic, designer, typographer, architect, performance artist – he was all those things and more. Proteus himself. A fox to Mondrian's hedgehog."

Chinua Achebe
looks back on his troubled relationship with his country. "Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting. I have said somewhere that in my next reincarnation I want to be a Nigerian again; but I have also, in a rather angry book called 'The Trouble with Nigeria', dismissed Nigerian travel advertisements with the suggestion that only a tourist with a kinky addiction to self-flagellation would pick Nigeria for a holiday. And I mean both."

Further articles: Sarah Crown talks to El Doctorow about his latest book "Homer and Langley". Martin Amis writes about writing "Time's Arrow". Nick Fraser pronounces Chris Morris' jihadist satire "Four Lions", ,which has just premiered at Sundance, "a half-success". And there is short story by Julian Barnes: "Sleeping with John Updike".


Al Ahram Weekly 21.01.2010 (Egypt)

Aijaz Zaka Syed of the Khaleej Times calls for an end to "the madness" of suicide bombing and reports that in Mecca, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al-Sheikh recently used "unusually strong language" to condemn it himself. "Warning Muslims around the world against the extremists, the grand mufti termed the spectre of terror and suicide attacks as 'the curse of Muslim lands'. He singled out the extremism and the death cult of suicide attacks as the 'most serious problem' facing the Muslim community today."

After six Copts were shot in Nagaa Hamadi over Christmas (more here) Muqtedar Khan remembers that in 628 AD, the Prophet Mohammed granted a charter of rights to a delegation from St. Catherine's monastery to protect Christians until the end of the world.


The New York Review of Books 11.02.2010 (USA)

Chess champion Garry Kasparov readily admits that he was devastated after losing to Deep Blue in 1997. But what did IBM gain from the victory? What did the programmers do with it? "The dreams of creating an artificial intelligence that would engage in an ancient game symbolic of human thought have been abandoned. Instead, every year we have new chess programs, and new versions of old ones, that are all based on the same basic programming concepts for picking a move by searching through millions of possibilities that were developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Like so much else in our technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market. Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both sectors."

Anne Applebaum praises Michael Scammell's much reviewed biography of Arthur Koestler and expresses her gratitude to Scammell for mentioning Koestler's virtually unknown reportage, "Scum of the Earth", on the fate of refugees in France: "It was a revelation: astonishingly fresh, clear, and relevant, not only explaining the rapid collapse of France in 1940, but also illuminating some of the difficulties that France and other European countries still have in absorbing 'foreigners' even today."

Further articles: Ahmed Rashid asks when the USA and their allies will be ready to strike a deal with the Taliban "because there is no military victory in sight and no other way to end a war that has been going on for thirty years." Jerome Groopman wonders whether the now trendy behavioural economics can help the health system.
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