SignAndSight.com

Features » Magazine Roundup


02/03/2010

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Polityka | Tygodnik Powszechny | Miller McCune | NZZ Folio | Odra | El Espectador | Magyar Narancs | Le point | Wired

The New Yorker 08.03.2010 (USA)

Jeffrey Toobin dedicates an article to a breed of criminal which is particular to the American health system: the corrupt podiatrist. Toobin unearths the sinister machinations of the New York podiatry chain Citywide Foot Care, which has found itself in the crossfire after faking bills (only cutting patients' nails but billing healthcare insurance companies for the removal of corns and calluses, too). The results are enough to make any European blush: one podiatrist boosted his income from 34,694 to 484,493 dollars in just one year and another landed on death row for killing a witness. Glenn Gastwirth, head of the American Podiatric Medical Association points out: "You find bad apples in any group. Most podiatrists are hardworking and compassionate individuals trying to make a difference in the lives of their patients. We like to say that podiatrists keep America walking."

Further articles: David Denby plots out in great detail Clint Eastwood's career and artistic development. Anthony Lane outlines the history and future of 3D cinema. Sasha Frere-Jones profiles the American singer/songwriter Bill Withers. David Denby reviews Roman Polanski's "The Ghostwriter". There is also a short story "Ask Me If I Care" by Jennifer Egan and poems by W.S. Merwin and Derek Mahon.


Polityka 01.03.2010 (Poland)

To the horror of the Poles, Artur Domoslawski's new biography of the reporter legend Ryszard Kapuscinski has chipped away at some of the old magic. Kapuscinski, he shows, was more of a faction writer than a journalist! In an interview with Daniel Passent, Domoslawski describes (here in German) Kapuscinski's method: "In 'The Emperor' Kapuscinski is clearly striding through literary territory. The book's fawning courtiers talk a Baroque language with a deliberately literary turn of phrase. To write this history - and in this form - he read Baroque literature. One of his literary friends said that 'The Emperor' is the most important Polish novel of the 20th century! There is a certain truth to this. Which is why I am so sceptical about the criticism from narrow-minded specialists. To read 'The Emperor' or 'Shah of Shahs' as schoolbooks on the history of Ethiopia or Iran is a mistake. Kapuscinski presented specific intellectual constructions, he universalised human behaviour and the mechanisms of societal trauma. I prefer to read this book as a treatise on power and not as a history of the feudal lords of Ethiopia."


Tygodnik Powszechny 28.02.2010 (Poland)

All Poland is up in arms about Artur Domoslawski's biography "Kapuscinski Non Fiction". Kapuscinski's widow tried in vain to prevent its publication with a court order and even the former foreign minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski spoke out against the book before it was published. In Tygodnik, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has his say on the matter. Without mentioning the controversy, he very discreetly raises the subject of Kapuscinski's involvement with the communist party: "We are all beneficiaries of the things that Ryszard Kapuscinski discovered, sensed, observed and bequeathed to us. Thanks to Artur Domoslawski, the author of this biography, we also know what price this tireless reporter was forced to pay, and which payments he accepted in order to be able to collect this knowledge which he turned into wisdom. The price which pained him most was the unending series of disappointments, unfulfilled hopes, and their bitter aftertaste; the feeling of his powerlessness, the powerlessness of the pen against the superior forces of evil."

There is also a special supplement about the Chopin year.


Miller McCune 22.02.2010 (USA)

(Via 3quarksdaily) Ryan Blitstein tells the enthralling story of the "Tin Man" David Cope, whose algorithmic compositions and experiments in artificial creativity have made him a controversial and even feared figure in the world of music for a good thirty years. Six years ago he trashed Emmy (Experiments in Musical Intelligence), his original software programme, but this month (February) he is scheduled to unveil the results of its daughter programme, dubbed Emily Howell. "Emily Howell isn't stealing creativity from people, he says. It's just expressing itself. Cope claims it produced musical ideas he never would have thought about. He's now convinced that, in many ways, machines can be more creative than people. They're able to introduce random notions and reassemble old elements in new ways, without any of the hang-ups or preconceptions of humanity. 'We are so damned biased, even those of us who spend all our lives attempting not to be biased. Just the mere fact that when we like the taste of something, we tend to eat it more than we should. We have our physical body telling us things, and we can't intellectually govern it the way we'd like to,' he says. In other words, humans are more robotic than machines. 'The question,' Cope says, 'isn't whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul.'"


NZZ Folio 01.03.2010 (Switzerland)

China's leaders eat almost exclusively organic food, Bernhard Bartsch has discovered. Organic farming is a booming industry. As least for those who can afford to pay three times the price for pumpkins, cucumbers and bitter melons. With its vast rural population, China is perfectly positioned to become a major international exporter of organic produce. But Chinese organic standards are not up to Western scratch. "Chinese certificates comply with international standards on paper. But the image of the Chinese product control officer is extremely poor - even among Chinese consumers. 'Basically you are never safe from fraud and corruption in China,' says one customer who buys from Liuminying, the 'green village'. 'But because every week I see how the farmers here work, I just believe them, I have no other option.' Foreign importers however cannot rely on trust and therefore regularly feel obliged to conduct tests themselves to see if European standards are being met."

Further articles on the subject: Bernhard Pötter explains how a handful of hippies became the "green multinational" Greenpeace. Ute Eberle describes how the Dutch city Venlo is being converted into the "C 2 C model city" - C 2 C or "cradle to cradle" means no waste as all materials are recycled. And Marcel Hänggi explains the trade in carbon credits.

In his Notes from the Nose (here in English) Luca Turin celebrates the 33rd birthday of Yves Saint Laurent's perfume "Opium". Great perfume and great launch: "The slogan was 'Pour les femmes qui s'adonnent (give themselves over) a Yves Saint Laurent.' The women in the ads, though fully dressed, looked as if the great gay genius had figured out something better than sex."


Odra 01.02.2010 (Poland)

The focus of this month's magazine from Breslau is the media. In an article (wrong linked unfortunately), Marcin Adamczak ponders the extent to which piracy helps develop the culture industry. He posits that internet users have become an integral part of the marketing strategy of entertainment giants. "The majority of users who put fake or parody film trailers on YouTube, swap subtitles or over-dub voices, alter posters or films in Photoshop and After Effects in the blogs and portals are actually, like internet piracy, working within the system which is controlled by the media industry. The industry profits from all the complaining and piracy. (...) Woe be to the film which is not parodied on YouTube!"

Ewa Stachniak has crossed more than one border in her lifetime. Born in Poland she now lives in Canada, her books blur the boundaries between history and literature and she is also one of the few writers who explicitly set out to write "herstory". "It is a natural consequence of my need to rethink Polish history from my own, female, perspective. I regard his/herstory as a narrative in which we are constantly questioning who we are. In our answers we do not only shape our relationship with the past and influence the present, we also discover the conditions and limits of our identity. This definition of history postulates the relativity of experience and creates a constant need for fresh interpretations of the past, particularly ones that differ from the more traditional perspectives. And we have inherited plenty of these: from lessons in school, university lectures, political confusions, and on to the stories of our parents and grand parents. These are not fixed values, they have their limitations. And this is why they deserve to be re-evalated, revised or supplemented with other, forgotten, overlooked voices, also ones from outside."


El Espectador 27.02.2010 (Colombia)

Hector Abad celebrates an important victory of Colombian civil society: a Colombian constitutional judge has overruled President Alvaro Uribe's attempt to break the constitution and serve a third term in office. "So there are still judges in Bogota. This ruling represents a victory of the constitutional state over the "state of opinion". This means that a momentary majority is not enough to remove one of the cornerstones of the constitution. Indeed, we have our new constitutional court to thank for most of the little progress we have made in politics and society in the last twenty years. It has given rights to expellees, it has legalised euthanasia and, for many years, it legalised possession of drugs for personal use only. It has also ensured that women who have an abortion after rape not longer risk being thrown into prison. So there are some happy moments in the life of this nation, when we can feel trust in the growth and the maturity of our country."


Magyar Narancs 25.02.2010 (Hungary)

On its last working day before the parliamentary elections (set for the beginning of April) the Hungarian parliament passed a law banning Holocaust denial, with a maximum prison sentence of three years. "Finally!" comments the weekly magazine Magyar Narancs, which also welcomes the precise and explicit wording of the ruling. "Of course you could also outlaw the glorification of further crimes, but these are rare in the Hungarian public sphere today - something which cannot be said of racism. That universe, in which Holocaust relativisation or rather denial, is a commonplace, is already hammering on the door of parliament. We might not believe that the ban will end this, but at least it sets a symbolic limit. [...] It may be true that only a few people publicly deny the Holocaust. It may be true that this law will hardly be used. But we still need it. If only for our own sake. So that we can take it out of the cupboard every now and then and have a look at it. And so that we can celebrate that such a thing exists in our country, that our state has changed sufficiently that it can no longer accept it when the violent death of 600,000 of its citizens is denied by the descendants of their murderers."


Le point 25.02.2010 (France)

To coincide with the publication of the collection of essays "Une tombe au creaux des nuages" Spanish writer Jorge Semprun explains in an interview why he doesn't really like the word Shoah: because this slightly antiquated Hebrew expression emphasises the irrational side of Antisemitism - although it's better than the term Holocaust, which is "indecent" because it means deliberate sacrifice. Semprun also talks about the importance of the writer for the preservation of the memory of the extermination of the Jews, and the dispute between Yannick Haenel and Claude Lanzmann: "Why should only historians and sociologists write about this experience? Only the novelist can keep the memory alive by appropriating it into a work of fiction... I am in favour of [Haenel's book] on principle and I support his approach most of all. If young novelists are not allowed to take possession of memory, it becomes arbitrary and solemn. There is no such thing as taboo in literature, but there are moral rules which everyone must obey. That means that this debate throws up another problem which has to be raised somehow: is Claude Lanzmann the only person who has the right to talk about the Shoah?"


Wired 18.03.2010 (USA)

Not all the commentaries on Steve Levy's article about Google algorithms are complimentary: too "fan-boyish" is a recurring criticism and it's not entirely wrong. Nevertheless, it is full of fascinating info: "Take, for instance, the way Google's engine learns which words are synonyms. 'We discovered a nifty thing very early on,' Singhal says. 'People change words in their queries. So someone would say, 'pictures of dogs,' and then they'd say, 'pictures of puppies.' So that told us that maybe 'dogs' and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it's hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.' But there were obstacles. Google's synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. 'Hot dog' would be found in searches that also contained 'bread' and 'mustard' and 'baseball games' — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what 'hot dog' — and millions of other terms — meant. 'Today, if you type 'Gandhi bio,' we know that bio means biography,' Singhal says. 'And if you type 'bio warfare,' it means biological.'"
signandsight.com - let's talk european