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23/11/2010

Magazine Roundup

The Independent | Al Ahram Weekly | The Nation | Rue89 | The New York Review of Books | Clarin | Slate.fr | Project Syndicate | Newsweek | Polityka | Telerama | Scientific American


The Independent 19.11.2010

It is possible to write well about sex? Arifa Akbar posed this question to a series of publishers and authors, among them Geoff Dyer who had the following advice: "It seems to me if you do write it, it has to be absolutely explicit – no metaphors, no hyperbole. After writing 'Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi', I said to my editor, 'I will bet you any sum of money I won't be listed for the Bad Sex awards'. Descriptions of throbbing orbs lends themselves to the awards, not [a sentence like] 'he stuck his tongue in her arse'. [Jonathan] Beckmann, [editor of the Literary Review] agrees with Dyer that it is 'less ostentatious' sex that is the most effective. 'The best sex scenes are the ones that are quite clinical and precise. Colm Toibin's short stories are quite good, there is a good sex scene in Bret Easton Ellis's 'Imperial Bedrooms'; Dyer wrote perfectly reasonable scenes in 'Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi'. He just tells you what happens; what's not good is the over-florid writing that imbues sex with transcendental meaning." Philip Kerr, who believes he won the Bad Sex Award in 1995, for his use of the world gnomon - "the hard part of a sundial", has a different opinion.
Test the theories for yourself over at Lapham's Quarterly with Ms.Wharton's "The Bread of Angels".


Al Ahram Weekly 17.11.2010 (Egypt)

At the third annual Panorama of European Film, an initiative of the producer-director Marianne Khoury, Hani Mustafa was deeply impressed by Michael Haneke's "White Ribbon" which she felt spoke directly to her, in Egypt. "The viewer comes out of 'The White Ribbon', which lasts for two and half hours, in a state of astonishment and incomprehension. It takes time and mulling over to begin to register what it was all about. Beautifully made, the film deploys wonderful acting and a fascinating mode of communication that subtly creeps up on you. On the streets of Cairo, one does not feel so far removed from that remote village in Germany - or the possibility of horrendous consequences resulting from similar attitudes increasingly prevalent here now."

When Judith Butler put her oar in at the American University in Cairo on what would have been Edward Said's 75th birthday, Yassin Gaber was in attendance. "As Butler so eloquently put it, 'Israel in its present form cannot do without its mechanisms of dispossession, without destroying itself as Israel. In this sense, the threat to Israel is a consequence of its fundamental dependency on dispossession and expulsion for its existence.'"

The Nation 06.12.2010 (USA)

Samuel Moyn describes Timothy Snyder's book "Bloodlands" as one of the most important books on the Holocaust and totalitarianism in recent years. Snyder describes the region between the Baltic states and Ukraine as a heart of darkness created by the interaction - even "joint project" - of two forms of totalitarianism. But when Snyder relativises the importance of Auschwitz - Moyn cannot follow, among other reasons because the murder of the Hungarian Jews had nothing to do with the interaction of Hitler and Stalin. "For a historian who so frequently cites facts and figures as dispositive, it still matters that more Jews died in Auschwitz - about a million - than in any other camp. And much more important, Auschwitz, more than any other site, revealed the continental scope of Hitler's hatred of Jews, which far transcended the bloodlands even if the suffering there was worse, both relatively and absolutely."


Rue89 21.11.2010 (France)

The rotten state of France emerges clearly in modest and non-sensationalist articles such as this. Jaques Davignac reports on life in Marseilles which is starting to resemble US TV series "The Wire". Recently an 11-year old child who was caught up in the drugs trade, was gunned down by the firing squad of an enemy gang in front of the entrance to his building. The 11-year old is the 14th victim this year, in the Marseille gang war which, rue89 says, is being fought between Roma and Maghrebins. In another "reglement de comptes" a 16-year old was arrested for firing a shot gun. "In the driving seat of the car from which he fired the shots, was his father. A police officer commented: 'They treat kalashnikovs as if they were disposable razors. They throw them away and burn them after use which means that they must have cellars full of them.' Another one says: 'These revenge shootings used to be a last resort that took place only after consultation with a mediator; today they pay in cash."


The New York Review of Books 09.12.2010 (USA)

Charles Petersen reads two new books about Google: Ken Auletta's "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It" (website) and Nicolas Carr's theories about the threat it poses to our poor brains, "The Shallows" (website). Of particular interest are his thoughts on the effect of ever more personal ads. Irwin Gotlieb, for example, CEO of GroupM, the largest advertising agency in the world, told Auletta: "'Take disposable diapers. Should you just market to pregnant women? I would argue that maybe the grandmother has significant influence.' Thus if a daughter-in-law becomes pregnant and searches on Google for baby blogs, or looks at strollers on Amazon, the grandmother-to-be - whose relationship to her daughter-in-law could be discovered through Facebook, or perhaps through the social networking service Google is reported to be working on - may begin to notice a remarkable increase in diaper ads not only on the websites she visits but also, as more and more devices become tied together through wireless connections, over her radio, on her television, possibly on her toaster, and certainly on her cell phone, which, following another of Gotlieb's suggestions, might start flashing with coupons for diapers when, through the phone's location features, a marketer is made aware that she has walked into a supermarket or drugstore. It's not hard to imagine a future in which an ill-informed grandmother-to-be might suspect that there will be a new addition to the family, simply by observing changes among the ads she's served up hour by hour and day by day." Because no granny could fail to be interested in the subject of diapers...

Further articles: Janet Malcolm's reportage on the "Rally to Restore Sanity" by US comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart shows minimal sympathy for the event.' Before running a marathon Hugh Eakin watches Benjamin Heisenberg's Film "The Robber" and suitably impressed. Alan Hollinghurst reviews Michael Cunningham's neuen Roman "By Nightfall".

Clarin 19.11.2010 (Argentina)

"Access to knowledge is becoming freer and more closely monitored all the time." Horacio Bilbao introduces the newly published book "Argentina Copyleft" (read our feature "Against Obscurantism" on the subject here). "Nineteenth century laws are regulating 21st century culture, explains its editor Beatriz Busaniche. 'The copyright laws in use today were intended for a completely different social and technical context.' The exploitation of rights as in the 'reader permission granted by ebooks' on the other hand, Busaniche warns, 'threatens to change the way we read for ever. By replacing a paper book with a Kindle or iPad, we lose the right to sell on books, lend them or even read them again.' Argentina has the sixth most restrictive copyright laws in the world, according to the International Consumers Index. A recent change in the law, for example, which provoked almost no public debate, prevented a 1961 recording of the recently deceased singer and national heroine Mercedes Sosa, from entering the public domain, by extending copyright laws by a further 20 years – retroactively too, which means that other Sosa songs which had already entered the public domain, were reprivatised."

Slate.fr 16.11.2010 (France)

The Boston Globe is famous for its Big Picture photo series. Slate. fr the French offshoot of the US magazine, steals the idea and publishes an impressive set of pictures from the Islamic Eid al-Adha on November 16. The thumbnail shows a woman arriving in the Saudi Arabian city of Mena.


Project Syndicate 16.11.2010 (USA)

Eighty years ago, in the autumn of 1930, Stalin began his collectivisation programme, writes Timothy Synder in Project Syndicate, thus issuing a signal which Hitler and Mao understood only too well. Millions died as a result. Ukraine's current pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, refuses to describe the "Holodomor" as genocide. But for Snyder, this is exactly what it was: "Rafal Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who established the concept of 'genocide' and invented the term, would have disagreed: he called the Ukrainian famine a classic case of Soviet genocide. As Lemkin knew, terror followed famine: peasants who survived hunger and the Gulag became Stalin's next victims. The Great Terror of 1937-1938 began with a shooting campaign – directed chiefly against peasants – that claimed 386,798 lives across the Soviet Union, a disproportionate number of them in Ukraine."


Newsweek 21.11, 2010 (USA)

Duncan Hewitt was at Shanghai's super modern Grand Theater, to hear not a symphony by Beethoven, which is the venue's traditional fare, but a man blowing on a leaf. The concert was organized by the Cantonese-born singer Zhu Zheqin. "In 2009, after being appointed a United Nations Development Program ambassador, Zhu traveled through some of China's remotest regions — accompanied by a film crew, photographer, and writer—in an attempt to document the traditional music of various minority groups. In the course of their four-month odyssey, they recorded more than a thousand songs. In Miao areas, Zhu watched young people singing love songs on the mountainsides - a traditional courting ritual for an ethnic group that has no written language. She heard hundreds of people of the Dong minority singing complicated, multipart music without a conductor. And in Tibet, she discovered a historic form of religious music played only in one village. But Zhu realized that many of the best musicians were old, and some of the music was at risk of dying out. 'I was shocked by the beauty of what I heard—it was so good,' she says. 'But it needed support. I hope to let people see the beauty of these things in the contemporary era.'"

Polityka 19.11.2010 (Poland)

The sociologist Radoslaw Markowski, recently made a suggestion, inspired by Arend Lijphart, for solving the crippling conflict between the worldly, forward-looking Poles represented by Donald Tusk and the Catholic-nationalist followers of Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the PiS. It was to let each citizen chose one of the two and then pay their taxes, go to the doctor and send their kids to school accordingly. Jacek Zakowski warms to the idea (here in German, here in Polish): "If this were to happen, the country would be divided into territorial autonomies or loosely connected states (it would certainly involve a wave of migration) then the differences would become even more pronounced. PiS could cultivate its anti-Russian anti-German stance, send insulting diplomatic letters, erecting Lech Kaczynski memorials in every town, and releasing an autonomous report on the catastrophe in Smolesnk which would only hold, officially in PiSland. How many problems would that solve! Above all, it would stop one side trying to force its ideologies onto the other, against their will and principles. It would give rise to a Federal Republic of Poland."


Telerama 15.11.2010 (France)

Benoit Peteers has written the first biography of Jacques Derrida, who died six years ago. Catherine Halpern takes her hat off to him: "Three years of research, hundreds of witnesses, trawling through endless archives. ... Perhaps it is because he is not a philosopher himself, that the author was able to achieve the necessary distance. He offers no new interpretations of Derrida's work, but delivers a narrative that reads almost like a novel, in which he brings together intellectual and personal stories, shedding light on historical context and the creation and reception of the work." The Guardian article comes with a very intense photo.

Scientific American 22.11.2010 (USA)

After Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Internet, had given a polite but firm dressing down to all those who are trying to undermine the open standards of the Net, from Apple and Facebook, the Chinese, British, US and French governments, to Google and Verizon – he turned his attention to you - dear Internet users: The free Internet, in which everyman can create a website and connect to others, should not be taken for granted: "When your network rights are violated, public outcry is crucial. Citizens worldwide objected to China's demands on Google, so much so that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. Government supported Google's defiance and that Internet freedom - and with it, Web freedom - should become a formal plank in American foreign policy. In October, Finland made broadband access, at 1 Mbps, a legal right for all its citizens. As long as the web's basic principles are upheld, its ongoing evolution is not in the hands of any one person or organization-neither mine nor anyone else's. If we can preserve the principles, the Web promises some fantastic future capabilities."
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