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26/07/2005

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | The Spectator | Polityka | Al Ahram Weekly | The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | The New Yorker | Nepszabadsag | The New York Times


The New York Review of Books, 11.08.2005 (USA)

Former US diplomat Peter W. Galbraith sees two central problems in Iraq: "the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win. This, of course, raises a question about what a prolonged US military presence in Iraq can accomplish, since there is no military solution to the problem of Sunni Arab rejection of Shiite rule, which is now integral to the insurgency.
Iraq's Shiites endured decades of brutal repression, to which the United States was mostly indifferent. Iran, by contrast, was a good friend and committed supporter of the Shiites. By bringing freedom to Iraq, the Bush administration has allowed Iraq's Shiites to vote for pro-Iranian religious parties that seek to create—and are creating —an Islamic state. This is not ideal but it is the result of a democratic process."


The Spectator, 23.07.2005 (GB)

In the leading article Anthony Browne reveals why in England of all places, suicide bombers blow their fellow citizens into the air: because the Left and the multiculturalists have talked the Brits into hating themselves. This must come to an end, Browne declares: "Britain really is great. These small rainswept isles off the western end of the vast Eurasian landmass have contributed far more to the well-being of the rest of humanity than any other country, bar none. Sometimes it takes a foreigner to open your eyes. A Norwegian diplomat told me long ago that he was taught at school, as British kids aren’t, that Britain gave the world industrialisation, democracy and football — its economic system, its political system and its fun. That is just the start of it."


Polityka, 23.07.2005 (Poland)

The debate over how to deal with Muslim immigrants is causing big waves in Poland – the European country with the smallest percentage of Muslims in the general population (approximately 0.01 percent). Polityka has compiled an extensive dossier on the topic. Marek Ostrowski reflects on the currents debates on the "inner enemies" of European society and Oriana Fallaci's polemical attacks: "'They should go home', she writes – but where is this exactly? The Arabs and Muslims are a part of European society and to 'move them' somewhere else would be like amputating a limb. To 'throw the Muslims out' could mean figuratively that the people of Germany, England and France will try to throw them out of society – erecting social and mental barriers as the Israelis do with the Palestinians. Anti-Islamism could become a modern version of anti-Semitism." The hard line against the terrorists being demanded everywhere could also have its advantages for European Muslims – it would help to free them from general suspicion, Ostrowski believes.

Adam Krzeminski, Germany correspondent of Polityka, analyses the European book market on the basis of the best-seller lists. "We read crime fiction, we are interested in the sex life of women of all ages, we are amusing ourselves to death and have no desire to discuss literature. Half a million Europeans have no idea how to talk to each other, we are too enclosed in our our language circles. Only two authors address a pan-European readership: Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling.


Al Ahram Weekly, 21.07.2005 (Egypt)

Fayza Hassan looks at two books that analyse the phenomena of Al-Jazeera. In "Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World", Hugh Miles discusses how the Qatar-based broadcaster was initially assumed by Arab govenments to be an American propaganda instrument. "President Hosni Mubarak, during a tour of the premises of Al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, with his entourage while on an official visit to the small emirate in the spring of 2000, was taken aback by the small scale of the operation. 'All this trouble from a matchbox like this!' quipped the president. Yet four years later, the Arab press was still describing the channel's offices as lavish, wondering how Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani (interviewed here), the Emir of Qatar, could afford to finance such a formidable venture without foreign (anti-Arab) backing. And if Al-Jazeera managed in a very short time to ruffle the feathers of the powers that be, Eastern and Western, it was at the same time winning the undivided attention of a politically savvy Arab public in dire need of timely, well-informed news and intelligent, lively debates in a shared language (classical Arabic)."


The Guardian, 23.07.2005 (GB)

Jane Stevenson reports on her experiences in the world's larges library, the Biblioteca Apostolica in the Vatican, which she visited as she researched her book about women who wrote in Latin. "Going inside the Vatican feels a bit like entering a high-security prison. The main structure, four cliff-like walls of dun-coloured stone, is built round a bleak quadrangle and pierced by an archway: the blank rows of windows stare down at a fountain basin which looks as if it has never in living memory been filled with water. The Vatican City is also the biggest men's club in the world, a place where it is made clear by every nuance of its inhabitants' body-language that to be female is to be both peculiar and negligible. It was therefore a very odd place to be looking for women, a joke that I never attempted to share with anyone within its sacred portals."


Elet es Irodalom, 22.07.2005 (Hungary)

Hungary is celebrating the 100th birthday of Jenö Rejtö, the great adventure and detective story writer of the 1930s, whose books - published under the pseudonym P.Howard - are still best sellers today. But should he really be taken seriously? Author Andras Cserna-Szabo is annoyed by the narrow-mindedness of literary scholars who doubt this: "Why can they still not understand that this Hungarian Jew, born Reich, was simply a genius who, in his combination of pulp fiction and Budapest Cabaret, his created a magical, unsettling, deeply fascinating world, which had never been there before and which will never return - about which we would laugh boistrously but with tears in our eyes. If the academics don't want him, fine. Putting pearls before swine? We Hungarians are a hopeless species somehow. While the Czechs have long since canonised their idiot savant Schweik, and used him to entice tourists from all over the world into their country, on Rejtö's 100th birthday the Hungarians stand around conducting meaningless discussions about the difference between trivial and high culture!"

The historian Jozsef Martin celebrates Andras Oplatka's monograph "Graf Stephan Szechenyi. Der Mann, der Ungarn schuf", (Count Graf Stephan Szechenyi. The man who created Hungary) but wonders why such books are so rare, and why there has been so little exchange between the small, neighbouring peoples of central Europe: "We Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Croats, Serbs and many others, know so little about each other. There is less isolation in the relationship between Germany and Hungary, at least with respect to literature; evidence can be seen in the success of Peter Nadas, Peter Esterhazy, Imre Kertesz and the rediscovery of Sandor Marai in the German-speaking world; but still nobody in Germany knows how to pronounce the names of these authors. And we in Hungary know just as little about how to pronounce the names of our near and yet distant neighbours."


The New Yorker, 01.08.2005 (USA)

In a highly amusing review Steven Shapin introduces a cultural history of beverages: "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" (Walker) by Tom Standage attemps to trace the historical and social meaning of what we drink. "The vast difference between 'Let’s get a cup of coffee and talk about this' and 'Would you like to come up for a cup of coffee?' has nothing to do with the physiological effects of the beverage."


Nepszabadsag, 20.07.2005 (Hungary)


Peter Bartok, the Washington-based son of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, tells how difficult it is not to end up re-writing a deceased artist's work, however committed one is to not tampering with the legacy: "We try to decide on a case-by-case basis which version of my father's was the final one. But it's not enough just to analyse the manuscript, because he often made chages on the galley proofs. ... When in doubt, I have to just decide, and have the alternative versions printed in the footnotes." Peter Bartok is no fan of radical new stagings, for example, when a director changes the number of Duke Bluebeard's former wives - the lovers at morning, noon and evening - from three to 13. "Imagine Bluebeard singing: 'the first one I took at dawn, the second at 9:30, the third at 10:30, the next one at noon and so forth. That would be absolute nonsense, even if the director could change the music."


The New York Times, 24.07.2005 (USA)

"Bob Woodward's book about Deep Throat is the best short discussion of this distinction - between the reporter as private eye and the reporter as stenographer - that has ever been published." With a sprinkling of sentimentality, Christopher Hitchens, describes in his enthusiastic review of Woodward's "The Secret Man" (first chapter) how watching "All the President's Men" in the cinema, he and all his young colleagues dreamed of having such a potent Fink, a "Friendly Insider with Necessary Knowledge" in the hand, such as Mark Felt. But he soon realised how powerless the press is when nobody is prepared to speak. "The next quarter-century in Washington persuaded me that you never get a seriously good scandal (here the official documents on Watergate) unless there is a rift within the political establishment."

For the New York Times Magazine, Charles Siebert visited a very special retirement home in the jungle of Louisiana. It is the Chimp Haven, the federally-financed, well-earned and luxurious final resting place for laboratory chimpanzees, complete with enrichment specialists, toys, CD games and of course, television. "Younger chimps prefer kids' movies, Disney specials, 'Barney' and the like. The mature chimps' tastes, on the other hand, tend toward melodrama and anything with lots of action and aggression. Soap operas like 'Passions' and 'General Hospital' are big hits, the latter, it seems, because lab chimps have gotten so used to people in white coats."
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