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04/05/2010

Magazine Roundup

n+1 | Le point | Magyar Narancs | Salon.eu.sk | The Spectator | The Nation | The New Yorker | El Pais Semanal | Newsweek | openDemocracy | The New York Times


n+1 28.04.2010 (USA)

Under the rather overblown title of "The Intellectual Situation", the publishers of the hip magazine n+1 - among them Keith Gessen and Benjamin Kunkel - pen a culturally conservative manifesto against the "webists" who refuse to see anything but good in digitalisation – the names named are Clay Shirky and Lawrence Lessig. Despite its print origins, the article is a loosely structured collection of thoughts. But one interesting point is the comparison of the digital revolution with the Russian one. "If you believe that the internet is a revolution, then you must take seriously the consequences of that revolution as it is. The mistake that many supporters of the Bolsheviks made was to think that once the old order had been abolished the new order would be fashioned in the image of the best of them, rather than the worst. But the revolution is not just something you carry inside you; the web is not your dream of the web. It is a real thing, playing out its destiny in the world of flesh and steel - and pixels, and books."


Le point 29.04.2010 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy enters the fray in the French debate about Freud which was triggered by philosopher Michel Onfray's new book. In "Le Crepuscule d'une idole" Onfray paints the psychoanalyst in a very poor light, depicting him as a money-grabbing, cynical and success-hungry individual, whose theories only became religion due to his talent for propaganda and intimidation. Levy's opinion of the book is equally unflattering: "Banal, overly-simplified, puerile, schoolmasterly and bordering on ridiculous. (...) It is deplorable. I would be hard put, among this this mesh of fatuous rather than malicious platitudes, to recognise the author of a number of books – among them 'Le ventre des philosophes' – who, twenty years back, struck me as so promising. Psychoanalysis has endured worse attacks in the past and it will no doubt recover. I'm not sure I can say the same of Michel Onfray."


Magyar Narancs 22.04.2010 (Hungary)

The 52.7 percent victory of the conservative right in the April 11 elections changed Hungary's political landscape dramatically. The writer Peter Nadas talks in an interview how this came about and admits to having been very wrong about plenty of things in the past. "I did not recognise how closely democracy and capitalism were linked, I had no idea that the powers of market capitalism would be unleashed without political control, what these are capable of and above all, where the Enlightenment tradition was actually lived out in large democracies. Of course, in the dictatorship my so-called healthy common sense was a place of refuge. But even then, the reserves of common sense in the large western democracies had shrunk to a minimum. I should have seen that. The benchmarks for healthy common sense are still in place in western societies, which is why they are more stable. But the Berlin Wall was a sign that priorities can change. Since then, business has had nothing to fear. It is no longer controlled by politics, but the other way round. Today, I believe that common sense as a pro-constitutional force still exists in the old democracies, but that it no longer determines daily life in these societies. Daily life is determined by the amassing of material goods."


Salon.eu.sk 28.04.2010 (Slovakia in English)

Communist party officials regarded "the people" as an undifferentiated grey mass, and present day Slovakian politicians in the run-up to the elections are competing to show their concern "for human beings". This category covers everything from families to the homeless, but, Miroslav Kusy comments, citizens are missing from the list: "Nobody seems to want to make use of the hidden potential of the wonderfully committed citizens of Slovakia at present. No political party has shown any willingness to promote their participation, political awakening, entering the political arena. It is almost as if the parties were afraid of what might happen. This is our arena, they are saying to themselves, the arena of the red, the blue, the green, the black party and the invasion of our stage by ideologically undefined citizens would only wreck our game. We can win without them. All they need to do is vote for us. And so the parties prefer to fight for the affection of mothers and children, senior citizens, the unemployed, of anyone covered by the label of human being, except for citizens as politically committed beings, who might mess things up by demanding political and civil rights and the whole human rights packet that does not feature in the parties' political programmes at all."


The Spectator 01.05.2010 (UK)

Britain goes to the polls on May 6th. The unexpected rise of the Lib Dems has changed everything. Huge Rifkind describes it as Ground Zero for political opinion. "The fact that nobody knows for certain is the whole point. One strategy is to just declare something, at random, and then think of a way to justify it. 'The BNP will be the real winners,' I told a friend of the wife the other day, just to see if I could get away with it. 'Really?' she said. 'But Nick Robinson said the third parties were getting squeezed out by the surge in Lib Dem support.' 'Pah,' I retorted. 'You don't want to listen to that old fraud. No, he's quite wrong. You see, a hung parliament will lead to voting reform, which will lead to proportional representation, which will lead to Britain's extremist parties holding the balance of power in a similar manner to the ultra-Orthodox in the Israeli system.' 'Oh.' she said, sounding genuinely impressed. It could even be true. I haven't a clue."


The Nation 17.05.2010 (USA)

Christine Smallwood talks to Tony Judt whose battle against ALS seems, if anything, seems to be increasing his productivity. He has just published a new book "Ill Fares the Land" (excerpt), an impassioned appeal for social democracy in western societies, and he also working on a study of the modern railway. Here he explains why he does not believe in democracy without state control: "The question is, what do we do now, in a world where, in the absence of liberal aristocracies, in the absence of social democratic elites whose authority people accept, you have people who genuinely believe, in the majority, that their interest consists of maximizing self-interest at someone else's expense? The answer is, either you re-educate them in some form of public conversation or we will move toward what the ancient Greeks understood very well, which is that the closest system to democracy is popular authoritarianism. And that's the risk we run. Not a risk of a sort of ultra-individualism in a disaggregated society but of a kind of de facto authoritarianism."


The New Yorker 10.05.2010 (USA)

Does espionage actually work? By way of an answer, Malcolm Gladwell recommends the brilliant and "almost absurdly entertaining" book "Operation Mincemeat" by the British journalist Ben Macintyre (Harmony) It reconstructs the most remarkable deception in modern military history, which culminated in the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, outwitting the Germans with a ruse taken straight out of a detective novel by Basil Thomson. Gladwell concludes his highly entertaining and compelling review with the following caveat: "The proper function of spies is to remind those who rely on spies that the kinds of thing found out by spies can't be trusted. If this sounds like a lot of trouble, there's a simpler alternative. The next time a briefcase washes up onshore, don't open it."

Further articles: Connie Bruck profiles the media mogul Haim Saban, whose uses his cash to protect Israel influence U.S. foreign policy. (According to the Wrap, Saban put pressure on the New Yorker to remove chunks of the article prior to publicaion, but to no avail.)

Anthony Lane watched Jon Favreau's "Iron Man 2" starring with Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke, and Dover Koshashvili's Chekhov film "The Duel". There is also a short story, "Uncle Rock" by Dagoberto Gilb and poems by Lucia Perillo and Charles Wright.


El Pais Semanal 02.05.2010 (Spain)

With his usual sarcasm Javier Marias comments on the attempt to charge judge Baltasar Garzon with perverting the course of justice in the investigation into Civil War atrocities committed under Franco. "Much of Spain, and this includes people on the left, nationalists and those who are 'against the system" is still, sociologically speaking, and in terms of sympathies, in the Francoist world – these people have never known anything different. The decision of the Supreme Court to accept the charges brought against against Garzon by 'Falange Espanola' and others, strikes me as unfortunate but not surprising, after all there are still plenty of Francoists in the judiciary. The assumption that Francoism would one day be condemned by society as a whole was and is an illusion. The sort of consensus that was reached in the rest of Europe with the end of the fascist dictatorships – however artificial or false it may have been – never happened here. This is and always was an abnormal country, I don't know why we are so surprised. No one has ever really been convinced by the opposition. We have to live with this, we have to sit it out. At least we are used to it."


Newsweek 29.04.2010. (USA)

"3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension," writes Roger Ebert in detailed break down of why Hollywood's crazy stampede towards it is suicidal. "It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a 5 to 7.50 USD surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for."


openDemocracy 29.04.2010 (UK)

Political scientist
Ivan Krastev is looking out for European security interests in Ronald Asmus' book "A Little War that Shook the World" (excerpt). "Little wars cause minor casualties and inspire great emotions, thus bringing an illusion of victory. The Russo-Georgia war of August 2008 was just such a little war. It lasted merely five days, but it succeeded in shattering the belief of Europeans that war in the old continent had become a thing of the past. It not only re-drew the state borders in the Caucasus, it changed the terms of Europe's security debate."


The New York Times
02.05.2010 (USA)

Self-tracking is the next big thing. It is involves compiling information on everythng from calorie burning, topics you talk about in the pub and even spiritual well-being, and then looking for correlations in the data streams. In a huge article for the NYT Magazine, Gary Wolf describes how keeping track of his working hours made him feel like a small minded boss, that is, until he turned to the online tracking methods: "After a few weeks I looked at the data and marveled. My day was a patchwork of distraction, interspersed with valuable, but too rare, periods of focus. In total, the amount of uninterrupted close attention I was able to muster in a given workday was less than three hours. After I got over the humiliation, I came to see how valuable this knowledge was. The efficiency lesson was that I could gain significant benefit by extending my day at my desk by only a few minutes, as long as these minutes were well spent."

And in the Sunday Book Review: "If the Oxford English Dictionary had a listing for 'all over the place,' Vollmann would take up the entire entry. And the next one," explains an exhausted Pico Iyer, after reading William T. Vollman's latest work, "Kissing the mask. Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater With Some Thoughts on Muses (Especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines" (excerpt), Josef Joffe picks apart Tony Judt's book on the state of social democracy "Ill fares the land" (excerpt) and David Gates reads Tom Nolan's biography of the jazz clarinetist Artie Shaw.
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