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01/06/2010

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Merkur | The Economist | Polityka | MicroMega | Prospect | Elet es Irodalom | Das Magazin | The New Statesman | n+1 | The New York Times

The New Yorker 07.06.2010 (USA)

Raffi Khatchadourian paints a fascinating portrait of political activist and journalist Julian Assange, one of the founders and publishers of WikiLeaks, an internet whistleblower which aims to provide free access to confidential documents from governments and other organisations. Most notably the site published video footage shot from the cockpit of the US apache helicopter which gunned down at least 18 Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists earlier this year. Khatchadourian spent a week in "the Bunker" in Iceland where Assange and his team was preparing the video and he describes, after talking to Assange's mother, the bizarre childhood that led to Assange, who was born 1971 in Australia, becoming a hacker and starting Wikileaks: "In 2006, on a blog he had started, he wrote about a conference organized by the Australian Institute of Physics, 'with 900 career physicists, the body of which were sniveling fearful conformists of woefully, woefully inferior character.' He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by 'patronage networks' - one of his favorite expressions - that contort the human spirit. He sketched out a manifesto of sorts, titled 'Conspiracy as Governance,' which sought to apply graph theory to politics."

Watch an interview with Assange from Colbert Nation.

Further articles: In a thorough review Pankaj Mishra presents the new books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Paul Berman. Peter Schjeldahl reviews a book on the American gallerist Leo Castelli. Anthony Man watched Mia Hansen-Love's drama "The Father of My Children" on the big screen, as well as the comedy "Solitary Man" by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. There is also a short story "Extreme Solitude" by Jeffrey Eugenides and poems by Carl Dennis and Jennifer L. Knox.


Merkur 01.06.2010 (Germany)

The constitutional judge Udo di Fabio praises, although not online, the emancipatory power of money: "Because money, in a money society, is indifferent to personality and status, it overcomes all social hurdles and shows an indomitable propensity for freedom and egalitarianism, because it does not care whose hands close around it."

In November 2009, the German constitutional court stepped up the laws on "the agitation of the people" which cover Holocaust denial – by adding a clause to criminalise the glorification or justification of National Socialism. The jurist Horst Meier is mortified: "The constitution provides a forum upon which everyone can discuss any subject. Without exception. Always. No one should be able to declare the debate closed; and no state authority should be able to make contempt for the Nazi regime an official truth, thereby outlawing dissent. Political isolation of those who refuse to work through the past, smothering them with legal means of coercion is unnecessary and detrimental."

The zoologist Hubert Markl entertains a string of diverse thoughts about Charles Darwin, nature and culture and concludes: "Nature doesn't stop learning!"


The Economist 31.05.2010 (UK)

Populist politicians in Africa like to brand homosexuality a Western import which is foreign to African culture. This, as the Economist emphasises, rather turns things on its head. "'Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay-rights campaigner, says the real import into Africa is not homosexuality but politicised homophobia.This has, he argues, coincided with an influx of conservative Christians, mainly from America, who are eager to engage African clergy in their own domestic battle against homosexuality.... 'Africa must seem an exciting place for evangelical Christians from places like America,' says Marc Epprecht, a Canadian academic who studies homosexuality in Africa. 'They can make much bigger gains in their culture wars there than they can in their own countries.'


Polityka 29.05.2010 (Poland)

The Polish film composer ("A Single Man") Abel Korzeniowski shares his concerns about the direction film music is taking."In recent years, characteristic melodies in films have become increasingly rare. James Horner told me that in some cases the director even goes as far as to specify that he doesn't want any," Korzeniowski explains in an interview. "But a signature tune influences the way we identify with the film. Imagine 'The Godfather' without Nino Rota or 'Star Wars' without John Williams! This departure is a phenomenon that is influenced by popular music on the one hand, with its love of repetitive rhythms, and by technology on the other, which can produce something akin to music simply and quickly. You just buy a loop library, and throw something together from readymade material to create the impression of having made something new. This style has become so ubiquitous that some producers actually like it."


MicroMega 29.05.2010 (Italy)

Roberto Saviano, author of "Gomorra" who has been forced to live under police protection for many years now, is a "paper hero"? This, at least, is the argument put forth by sociologist Alessandro di Lago in his book "Paper Heroes". Paolo Flores d'Arcais, the doyen of intellectual Berlusconi opponents, scratches his head: "I'm not saying you can't criticise anyone you like, from Jesus to Mohammed, or that you shouldn't slate the books by Saviano or Rushdie. But di Lago does not write like a literary critic. He is a sociologist, one of our best. For sociological reasons, he has taken it upon himself to demolish a legendary book and an author who has become a symbol. Where, in a democracy such as ours, that has been decapitated and brought to its knees and threatens to degenerate into a form of post-modern fascism, is the danger that Saviano incorporates? Is there any justification for investing all that time and intelligence in writing a book against Saviano?"

Prospect 28.05.2010 (UK)

As the new film graces our screens, Laurie Penny looks at the role of men in "Sex in the City" from a feminist perspective. She also recommends that men watch the movie, to get a sense of how women feel while watching the majority of Hollywood fare: "'Sex and the City' sets itself up in cheeky opposition to male power without for a second questioning the premise of patriarchy. It conjures a dynamic in which men are at once the enemy and the object of desire, where any interaction women have with the opposite sex is rigidly policed by an all-female gang of friends. The franchise gives the impression that only women who are rich, attractive, white, western and powerful can win in the gender war—and only by imitating the worst aspects of shallow patriarchal objectification. Poor Mr Big. It can't be easy being a phallic cipher.... Big is a patriarchal husk with zero emotional depth, an empty symbol of everything that women are meant to find hateful and desirable about powerful men. Imagine introducing him to your friends. It'd be like having a girlfriend called Tits."

Alexander Linklater delivers an erudite beating to "Hitch 22" the autobiography of the otherwise highly-respected intellectual Christopher Hitchens. The book only becomes mildly interesting when it echoes Hitchens' essays. Otherwise: "it's as if a half-naked old colonel has been discovered burbling to himself in his dressing room."


Elet es Irodalom 28.05.2010 (Hungary)

In its first two weeks in office, the newly elected Hungarian parliament has been passing laws in rapid succession. First, the citizenship law sent waves of consternation into the neighbouring countries, and now it has introduced a so-called Trianon Memorial Day to commemorate the Parisian peace treaties of 1920, which deprived Hungary of two thirds of its territory. The political scientist Daniel Hegedüs comments: "If the issue of dual citizenship has not cemented the image of the Hungarians as nationalistic troublemakers in the minds of the western opinion makers, the bill 'on the acknowledgement of national belonging' can leave no doubt in their minds. Of course the ninetieth anniversary of the tragedy of Trianon should be honoured, but the job should be left to the historians."


Das Magazin 29.05.2010 (Switzerland)

Paris is beside itself, according to Daniel Binswanger and Finn Canonica, and it's dining out on the failure of the Anglo-American system. Everyone is suddenly inspired and the party mood has even reached the Palais Royal: "In what used to be dark and dusty sales rooms littered with Louis XVI furniture, the shoe and perfume gods Pierre Hardy and Serge Lutens are now peddling luxury in its 21st Century form. Next to a shop selling nostalgic wooden toys for mothers over 35, an American named Rick Owens is tailoring outfits that will raise the child-bearing chances for women under 35. Stephane, a Parisian with a high lisping voice, who spent the last 8 years in Japan, after living in New York and London, said: 'In the last two years, Paris has arrived in the present.' It's doing the city good."

Eugen Sorg visited the 1976 Ponte Tower in Johannesburg,South Africa, a residential building which was once the highest, most state-of-the-art building in the Southern hemisphere. Its architect Rodney Grosskopff referred to it as "my big erection". Once almost exclusively inhabited by whites, today Africans of all nations live there in precarious circumstances, as Sorg learns.


The New Statesman 31.05.2010 (UK)

Mehdi Hasan questions whether the support for a burqa ban among Europe's political leaders, and the alarmist and vitriolic rhetoric that so often goes with it, is really an expression of concern for Muslim women. He also lists a number of reasons why the ban is self-defeating: "During Britain's own row over the veil in 2006, which was prompted by the then cabinet minister Jack Straw's revelation that he had insisted Muslim women remove their face veils at his constituency surgeries in Blackburn, Islamic clothing stores across the north-west of England reported a rise in sales of niqabs, burqas and other veils. One Muslim teenager I later met told me it had been Straw's remarks that prompted her to switch from wearing the hijab to the niqab."


n+1 24.05.2010 (USA)

Amelia Atlas delves into a new literary genre: the Berlin Roman. She looks at three new books about the German capital, two of which were written by American expats, "Book of Clouds" (excerpt) by Chloe Aridjis and "This Must be the Place" (more here) by Anna Winger: "Berlin is not Paris or Rome; it doesn't have the romance of a dusky Montmartre or the faded glory of antiquity. The smoky demimonde of Isherwood’s Berlin came and went with the war and Bowie's jangling counter-culture with the Wall-much as the city's new artistic face may approximate them. What is unique to Berlin is how much its history is still living.(...) Aridjis and Winger have both, for better or worse, written books representative of their expat brethren-the city is just one more instrument in the arsenal of their (our?) solipsism. It can't possibly stay that way forever. As manicured greens and glassed-in apartment complexes crop up in all those empty lots, they need not represent loss or erasure, but simply the city moving on."

In a highly critical article about the trendily monikered "x-phi", or experimental philosophy, and a number of new publications about it, Justin E.H. Smith, an historian in 17th century philosophy, outlines his concerns: "It should be clear by now that to the extent that I wish to attack x-phi, I wish to do so at its unguarded flank: the bulk of the criticism is coming from those who think philosophy must not open up to experimental methods at all, and so it is against this criticism that the new experimentalists have built up their defenses. I do hope the experimentalists win on that front. There is much to admire in the basic principles of the movement. As concerns the movement's actual accomplishments, that is another question altogether."


The New York Times 30.05.2010 (USA)

Russell Shorto profiles the Dutch politician Job Cohen, whose overwhelming success as Amsterdam's mayor makes him a real threat, as leader of the Social Democrats, to Gert Wilders in the June 9 elections. Cohen's hour came after the death of Theo van Gogh: "In Amsterdam, Cohen kept to his own agenda, at some remove from the national debate. Management of his intensely multiethnic city in the post-9/11 period led him to alter his traditional Dutch liberalism. Immigrants, he held, needed to become part of society, and that included learning the language and respecting the laws, and appreciating what he considers the paramount Dutch value, freedom. Newcomers, he told me, should study a Dutch canon of important historical events and figures. Cohen's idea seems to have been to move away from the multicultural extreme while also avoiding the anti-immigrant extreme, to fashion a practical inclusiveness. He has repeatedly said that 'Keeping Things Together' was his motto for governing the city."

In a long portrait of M.I.A. (aka Maya Arulpragasam) Lynn Hirschberg accuses the agitprop rapper of propagating an over-simplified view of Sri Lanka. Married to Ben Bronfman, son of the head of Warner Music, she proclaims her support for the Tamil Tigers in her music ("You wanna win a war? / Like P.L.O. I don't surrender"). She thrives on conflict, Hirschberg writes "'I kinda want to be an outsider,' Maya said, munching on a truffle-flavour French fry." Needless to say the interview provoked a furious retort.

In the Sunday Book Review, Nicholas D. Kristof defends Islam against Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her new book "Nomad": "To those of us who have lived and traveled widely in Africa and Asia, descriptions of Islam often seem true but incomplete. The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn't be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today. There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque.
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