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13/07/2010

Magazine Roundup

Das Magazin | Polityka | Caffe Europa | Al Ahram Weekly | The Boston Globe | Tygodnik Powszechny | Mediapart | Le Monde | Odra | The New Statesman | Le point | The Times Literary Supplement | Outlook India | The New York Times


Das Magazin 26.06.2010 (Switzerland)

Imagine you've spent a lifetime fighting your way up the career ladder as a doctor, lawyer, businessman. It has been only the best for your child all along, and what does it want to become? A stewardess. Rico Czerwinski meets offspring of the educated classes who are not following in their parents' footsteps. Daniel, for example, is a lawyer's son who never went to university and became a small-time farmer instead. Daniel is on the farm, cleaning the ground with a hose. He's preparing for a party the next day for friends and family. But his father says: 'I can't spend a single day there. They all drive me mad.' And his eldest daughter also finds it hard to maintain close contact with this other world. 'So many things are different in Daniel's family. They bring up the children differently. They feed them differently. It was with a heavy heart that I would allow my own children to spend weekends with Daniel's when they were little. Do you know how much TV they watch? And what sort of programmes? And all that cheap sugary crap they eat. Recently Daniel's eldest broke his leg. At kick-boxing training! The boy is 11."


Polityka 09.07.2010 (Poland)

What constitutes a true Pole? This question provoked heated debate during the recent elections. Adam Szostkiewicz considers (here in German) what it means, in the here and now, "to be Polish. Is it bound up with responsibilities and if so, which ones? Peoples who have always been free and lose their independence only briefly seldom discuss such matters. It is significantly easier to find dogged discussions about one "ness" or the other among trauma-inflicted peoples and easier still among a relatively young people like the Lithuanians, or one which is enjoying its own, independent state, like the Ukrainians. It is telling that our neighbours have a problem with Polishness. They see it as a threat to their own identity. As if they had forgotten the historical and cultural community of old days when – let's put it this way – Polish civilisation attracted the elites like a magnet."


Caffe Europa 05.07.2010 (Italy)

Two years after its publication in German, sociologist Ulrich Beck's "A God of One's Own" has been translated into Italian (and English). What Marco Marzano liked about it was precisely what attracted so much criticism in Germany: Beck's optimism about the mix of religions in the future. "One of the great advantages of Beck's work (and it makes a wonderful change from the rest of left-wing thought today) is that it is not about navel gazing, and it never succumbs to nostalgia. To the contrary, he emphasises the opportunities offered by social change. He sees the old religions through the filter of secularization as an instrument for satisfaction rather than a centre of conflict. He believes in the triumph of a personal god, in which all the values of traditional religions are built in and can serve as a reservoir for civic action. This is a fascinating scenario, in particular for the secular intellectuals, who can now look to the major religions, with no loss of face, as food for public debate."


Al Ahram Weekly 08.07.2010 (Egypt)

The Arab world should stop expecting Turkey to fulfil its political dreams, writes Azmi Bishara. Turkey has its own way of dealing with domestic and foreign policy issues that relate to its history: This is particularly pertinent when it comes to Israel: "The way that Turkey is handling its dispute with Israel, inclusive of Turkish civil society's peaceful activism against Israel, is appropriate to a country that is in a state of peace with Israel. It is effective precisely because it functions in this context. However, when countries or movements that are in a state of war (or at least presumed to be in a state of war) with Israel try to imitate Turkey's style of talk and action they will not be effective. The ways that resistance movements and countries that are at war with Israel have of being effective are totally different and either they should use them or wait until they can, because for them to imitate the Turkish way of handling its disputes with Israel can only be regarded as a form of retreat."

Further articles: The paper prints an interview with the recently deceased Islam scholar Nasr Abu-Zayd from 1995, shortly after he was forced to divorce his wife on charges of apostasy. He got off lightly because an apostate is usually given the death sentence. But the chief prosecutor Abdel-Sabour Shahin did not demand death, according to his interviewer. To which Abu-Zayd replied: "Oh, I should be very happy with that. Glory to Shahin, we should all ask his forgiveness. But I really don't know the basis upon which he reached that dispensation, as those ancestors whose views he advocates say otherwise."


The Boston Globe 11.07.2010 (USA)

It is a fact that weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq. But lots of people still believe that they existed. Why? Joe Keohand looks at the familiar but disconcerting phenomenon that facts are powerless against against false convictions – no matter if the people holding them are right-wing, left-wing, apolitical - and regardless of intelligence levels. "A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong."


Tygodnik Powszechny 11.07.2010 (Poland)

The Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz is a artist of international renown. "Only in Poland do we seem incapable of looking at her work with fresh eyes, subjecting it to new questions, risking new interpretations," write Agnieszka Sabor and Piotr Kosiewski. "It did not do the artist any good to be ranked so highly so soon. No sooner had her greatness been declared than she no longer seemed contemporary. We should not forget that 'tamed' art can often surprise us with new content and new interpretations." The reviewers are of course suitably ambivalent about the two exhibitions of Abakanowicz's work currently showing in Krakow and Warsaw.

The paper also remembers the East Prussian plebiscite exactly 90 years ago in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles, which buried all hopes entertained by a newly independent Poland that its northern border would be extended in its favour. Jerzy Pomianowski and Pietro Marchesani discuss the reception of Polish poetry in Italy. And Inga Iwasiow praises a new volume of poetry by the German-Polish writer Brygida Helbig (here a blog featuring samples of her work).


Mediapart 11.07.2010 (France)

Mediapart is an unusual online experiment and most of its articles are hidden behind a pay wall. Edwy Plenel, the former editor-in-chief at Le Monde is the man at the helm. He now sends a big "Merci!" to his readers for their show of support when Mediapart came under fire from the French government for its role in exposing the Bettencourt affair. "Mediapart cannot believe its luck. How can we hide our emotions in the face of such an overwhelming show of support, the huge numbers of new subscriptions, the mails of support, the friendly commentaries: the amazing wave of solidarity which is the best possible response to the attacks from the Elysee Palace."


Le Monde 10.07.2010 (France)

Under the heading "The two ends of language" the philosopher Michel Onfray keeps watch over language in contradictory French tradition. Looking inwards, it is opposed to regional languages; outwards, in the name of diversity – it can't stand English: "Now when the myth of the Adamitic language seems to have adopted the form of an airport English which is spoken by millions, Shakespeare's language in its maimed, amputated, warped, massacred and cauterized form has triumph as the language of trade. It is the dominant language because it is the language of the dominant culture. To talk English, however brokenly, is to talk the language of empire. The English biotope caries the name dollar". And he plucks Esperanto out of his hat by way of a solution!


Odra 01.06.2010 (Poland)

The Polish writer and translator Zofia Romanowiczowa died earlier this year in France. The cultural magazine publishes the transcript of a conversation (only a small fragment is available online). In it she talks about her life in Parisian exile, her work for Kultura magazine and her experience in a concentration camp. Like Imre Kertesz she says that everything that she knows she learned in the camp, but unlike Tadeusz Bowrowski (more here), she does not see the camp as a microcosm of the world: "The camp for women was one thing. The men's camp was a whole other ball game. I was friends with Piotr Rawicz who was in Auschwitz. It was riddled with pederasts. The old men would keep young boys. Piotr was a Jew and through some miracle he survived Auschwitz. He told us so many terrible stories. One about the Silesian for example, a man in his forties, he kept one boy, then ten.... So many dreadful things. In the women's camp by contrast. ... No, there were lesbian incidents. But the women always had a mothering instinct. I was one of the youngest. I was extremely lucky."

The magazine prints a conversation from the French Philosophie Magazine entitled "Who will save mankind?" The environmental scientist Ludwik Tomialojc comments: "This debate will fall on mostly deaf ears in our society, which has been kept quiet by the anti-green brigade. This is a pity because it shows clearly that a green lifestyle choice (as opposed to ecology as science) not only has scientific and materialist underpinnings but ethical ones as well. (...) In no other language but Polish could the term 'ecologist' have shifted from meaning a scientist to meaning an activist – all the better to antagonise society."


The New Statesman 09.07.2010 (UK)

Young people don't read any more, they can't concentrate on anything properly and they have zero social skills, or so the mantra goes. Perhaps we should be less disparaging about our "digital natives", says John Naish. They do seem to be producing the odd genius: "For most of us, multitasking is tough. Trials show that it tends to result in two things done poorly rather than one done well. But one in 40 people appears immune to this problem. These lucky speed-freaks can, for example, drive and talk on a mobile phone at the same time without loss of concentration on either task, according to tests on 200 people by the Utah University psychologist Jason Watson. Supertaskers constitute only 2.5 per cent of the population, Watson believes. But even that level is surprisingly high. 'According to cognitive theory, these individuals ought not to exist,' he says in a paper soon to be published by the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review."


Le point 08.07.2010 (France)

In his Bloc notes, Bernard-Henri Levy comments on the sanctions that the Arab world has introduced against Iran, and which have gone largely unnoticed by the international media. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has started controlling Iranian ships or ships headed for Iran in its waters, and it has frozen Iranian bank notes. Saudia Arabia has announced that it wants to open its airspace to Israeli planes. Levy finds this all most unusual: "You could say that the decision of the Emirates is a slap in the face for the regime, or rather a cold shower of truth for all the fools who believed that the 'holy union' of all the region's Muslims against the "Zionist enemy" would result in an unnatural alliance."


The Times Literary Supplement 09.07.2010 (UK)

James Hall has never seen a better or more thrilling exhibition about Renaissance drawing than the "Fra Angelico to Leonardo" show at the British Museum. Sketching, he learned, was an early form of brainstorming: "Before the second half of the fifteenth century, when the Gutenberg revolution brought about vastly increased paper production, drawing seems to have played a limited role in the artistic process. Most artists' drawings were made on wooden tablets covered in wax or powdered bone, which could be wiped clean after use. Unable to retain their preliminary studies for long, artists needed far better visual memories than those trained in the later age of paper, and must have possessed a superior ability to plan compositions in their heads."

Ultimantely, Phil Baker was not entirely satisfied with Alex Butterworth's book "The World That Never Was", but it did provide him with a number of very interesting stories about anarchism of the late 19th century: "United – if at all – by a resistance to imposed authority, the characters here range from the almost Tolstoyan figure of Peter Kropotkin to the far wilder Francois Koenigstein, better known as Ravachol. Disgusted by Thomas Huxley's 1888 Darwinian essay 'The Struggle for Existence', Kropotkin was the great theorist of Mutual Aid who had a soft spot for the rabbit as a species, admiring it as 'the symbol of perdurability [that] stood out against selection'. Ravachol, on the other hand, began his career by disinterring an old woman's corpse, murdered a ninety-five-year-old man, and then embarked on a terror bombing campaign which some commentators romanticized for the perpetrator's 'courage, his goodness, his greatness of soul'."

J.P.E. learned a great deal from Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky biography in which Tchaikovsky's letters to Brother Modest about his homosexuality could be read in English for the first time. But he cannot recommend Adam Zamoyski's Chopin biography - too fusty.


Outlook India 19.07.2010 (India)

The cover story tackles the tabu subject of organised Hindu terror in India: "'For the last 10 years, stories about Hindu right-wing violence have been trickling out. Instead of a systematic investigation, there has been an event-to-event investigation. The larger story has remained underinvestigated and under-reported,' says Mumbai advocate and human rights campaigner Mihir Desai. The CBI is only now seeking directions from the Union home ministry to see the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and other blasts in conjunction after there has been no conclusive evidence of the involvement of Islamic groups."

An unholy alliance has formed in Pakistan between two Sunni splinter groups – the Deobandis and the Wahabists – who advocate the killing of the remaining 80 percent of Pakistani society who are unbelievers, writes Amir Mir after the bombing of the Sufi temple in Lahore. "Says historian Dr Mubarak Ali, 'One consequence of the war in Afghanistan is the fracturing of Pakistan's religious patchwork quilt. Whereas once the faultlines lay between the Shias and Sunnis, these have now spread to the Barelvis and Deobandis, who are both Sunni.' Since the Barelvis are moderate and against the Taliban, the Deobandis look upon them as the state's stooges, who as heretics should be put to death anyway, Ali argues."

Further articles: John Mary reports from Kerbala where a teacher had his hand cut off for making disrespectful remarks about Mohammed. And a spokesman for the Indian Maoists replies to B.G.Veghese's article in which he argued strongly against talking to the Maoists: "Verghese is a typical example of the self-proclaimed civilisers of modern-day India, akin to the white 'civilisers' of yesteryear, who would have been the pride of a Rudyard Kipling."


The New York Times 12.07.2010 (USA)

Is Yemen the next Afghanistan? Very possibly, according to Robert F. Wort in a lengthy reportage for the NYT magazine which could have been longer still. The land is desperately poor, the Saudis are keeping a close watch to prevent democracy from developing and the Americans are making enemies with their bombing raids and their killing of local al-Qaeda followers. "The real problem was that Yemen, with its mind-boggling corruption, its multiple insurgencies, its disappearing oil and water and its deepening poverty, is sure to descend further into chaos if something does not change. Everyone has acknowledged this, including President Obama and a growing chorus of terrorism analysts. So far, the calls for action have yielded nothing. I spoke to a number of American officials in Washington and to a variety of diplomats at the embassy in Sana. They all told me the same thing: no one has a real strategy for Yemen, in part because there are so few people who have any real expertise about the country. (...) In late June, the White House announced it was more than tripling its humanitarian assistance, to 42.5 million dollars. But the numbers are still small given Yemen's need. And diplomats concede that they have not figured out how to address the central issues of poor governance, corruption and the economy."
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