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02/08/2005

Magazine Roundup

Merkur | London Review of Books | L'Espresso | Elet es Irodalom | Prospect | Nouvel Observateur | Polityka | Nepszabadsag | The Spectator | Ozon | The New Republic


Merkur, 01.08.2005 (Germany)

Historian Walter Laqueur rebuffs all those who nurse the illusion of a "new European century": "Europe in 2050 is going to be a very grey-haired continent," writes Laqueur. "According to the United Nations Population Division, in 1900, 21 percent of the world's population lived in Europe. Today it's less than 12 percent. In 2050, the UN office predicts it will be 7 percent and by the end of this century, less than 4 percent. According to these projections, the German population (currently 82 million) will have fallen to 32 million by the end of the century; in Italy, from 57 to 15 million, in Spain from 40 to 11.9. The decline will be even greater in Eastern Europe. By 2050, the population of Ukraine will drop 43 percent, in Bulgaria 34 percent and in the Baltic states, 25 percent. Much the same is expected in the Russian Federation. At the end of our century, more people will live in Jemen than in Russia.


London Review of Books, 04.08.2005 (GB)

Historian Eric Hobsbawm considers "Between Sex and Power", Göran Therborn's comprehensive and global analysis of the development of the family in the 20th century, to be mandatory reading. Who would have known that the two poles of the Cold War, the USSR and the USA, have the highest divorce rates in the world? Or that the most sexually active people of the Western world are the Finnish. What Hobsbawm feels is missing from this "deeply impressive" book is the relationship between the economy and the family in recent times. "As neo-liberalism triumphed in economics, its inadequacy could no longer be concealed. In the light of the contents of this book, it may be suggested that we are also reaching this point in the ideology of cultural libertarianism."


L'Espresso, 04.08.2005 (Italy)

The more often it's refuted, the better it sells. Umberto Eco tries to understand the success of Dan Brown's bestseller of "Da Vinci Code" and reaches the unsettling conclusion that the readers probably like to believe that Jesus and Maria Magdalena had a son. "I think that is what worries the Church. The belief in the 'Codex' (and another Jesus) is a symbol of de-Christianisation. If the people no longer believe in God, Chesterton says, it doesn't mean they don't believe in anything, but rather in everything. Even mass media."


Elet es Irodalom, 01.08.2005 (Hungary)

The physicist Istvan Hargittai remembers Leo Szilard and other senior scientists of Hungarian origin who emigrated to the USA in the 1930s and started the Manhattan Project. "Szilard was looking for solutions to problems with scientific precision. When he noticed in meetings that he was being viewed skeptically for his un-American way of presenting himself or his heavy accent, he took a real American with him whose sole function it was, to try to raise confidence in him. After Leo Szilard, Jenö Wigner and Edward Teller were able to persuade Einstein to write the famous letter to Roosevelt that alerted the president to the danger of the atom bomb from Germany, confidence in the Hungarian nuclear physicist was put to the ultimate test. Roosevelt struck a commission of politicians, researchers and military experts from which the Hungarian physicist was excluded due to its confidentiality, until it was discovered that the commission was dealing with confidential information that this very Hungarian had provided."


Prospect, 01.08.2005 (GB)

Hans Kundnani bids farewell to Germany's red-green coalition. "Looking back, it's clear that the 68ers had real influence in the decades before 1998. They are always associated with the liberalisation of German society, the confrontation with the Nazi past, the rise of environmental policy and the dissemination of post-national, post-industrial values. The years in the government appear to be an anti-climax in comparison."

In an article published exclusively online, Dutch member of parliament and human rights specialist Ayaan Hirsi Ali reminds us where Muslim terrorists find their precedent. "Mohammed constructed the house of Islam himself by appying military tactics which included mass murder, torture, select killings, lies and the indiscriminate destruction of productive goods." Ali recommends a new assessment of the founder of the religion. "These suggestions scare many people in the West. They believe that criticizing a holy figure is impolite somehow, inappropriate. This cultural relativism contravenes the basic values on which our society is built. We should never let ourselves be censored."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 28.07.2005 (France)

In the series on ethnology after Levy-Strauss, Gilles Anquetil interviews Paris-based historian of Africa Elikia M’Bokolo, who opposes the trend of "ethnicism" in ethnology and the social sciences. "The last guardians of this term are, however, the ethnologists...and the collectors of African art." M'Bokolo is a defender of an open understanding of identity: "The worst favour that one can do Africans is to constrict them to the term 'ethnic'. Ethnicities are processes, not entities. To say, 'I am Fulani or Bambara' means something different today from what it will mean in ten years time. There is no ethnic fate. But there has been an ethnicism that has lead to numerous tragedies and genocides."


Polityka, 27.07.2005 (Poland)

In the Polish weekly, Jacek Zakowski talks to Jeremy Rifkin about rising oil prices. "The end of our world is already very near – cheap travel, a car for everybody, and cheap heating. We are going to have to get used to the fact that we can't afford this. It's happening gradually and we have no idea when a qualitative change will kick in. But it is unavoidable. We can either sit around contentedly until the oil runs out or until it's not available to the less well off, or make a concerted effort to look for new energy sources. It's time for a revolution – we can do it and we have the means." That the oil price is, according to Rifkin, about to hit the 100 dollar mark, we should concentrate our efforts on extracting energy from hydrogen cells. He announces the beginning of the "Nitrogen Era".

"A nice vision – but a utopia nevertheless", comments writer Edwin Bendyk on Rifkin's prophesies. Unfortunately his theories lack scientific grounding. "Hydrogen can only be extracted using electrolysis which requires vast amounts of energy. What Rifkin fails to mention is that this energy cannot be met with green sources. Even in France, the country where 80 percent of electricity is created by nuclear energy, scientists have calculated that if all the country's cars were converted to hydrogen, the country would need twice the amount of power stations." But this does not mean Rifkin should not be read vigilantly – as in every Utopia, the potential of the thesis is more important than its practical content.


Nepszabadsag, 01.08.2005 (Hungary)

In an interview about limits on the freedom of speech, the philosopher and one of the legendary figures of the democratic opposition, Janos Kis speaks against imposing legal sanctions on remarks discriminating against the Hungarian Roma. "Stepping up punishment on verbal discrimination will achieve nothing, but it will endanger one of the most important values of modern democracy, the freedom of speech. It is impossible to create a law against hate-filled speech, that could not be implemented against a passionate critique of society." Kis calls for a socio-political solution to the problem of the Roma, instead of legally sanctioning discrimination against them. "We do not hear discriminating remarks against the Roma because we have freedom of speech today which we did not have under the old regime. State socialism found a pseudo-solution to the problem of the Hungarian Roma. They were barred from being able raise their status in society but they were permitted to have temporary work in industry. At the end of the Cold War, socialist large-scale industry collapsed, the majority of jobs for poorly qualified people disappeared. This threw the Roma back into unemployment and poverty. That's the real problem."


The Spectator, 01.08.2005 (GB)

The Spectator is bellicose in the extreme this week. "Wake up, folks - it's war!" cries Mark Steyn. He calls for an end to the subtle differentiation between moderate and radical Muslims and delivers his version of Churchill's "Blood, Sweat and Tears" speech."

Andrew Kenny defends the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima with reference to the inability of Japanese soldiers to be pragmatic. "Tough, brave and stoical, they became useless as battle winners if you killed their commander. They could not think for themselves and, without orders and leaders, became a ferocious and implacable mob, hopeless for securing victory but terrifyingly dangerous in refusing defeat. They would not surrender."


Ozon, 28.07.2005 (Poland)

"It's war", writes Tomasz P. Terlikowski. After the World War I, II and the Cold War, World War IV has started, he claims, because of Islam. But Islam is merely the shell which houses the hate of the west and western values and it has as little in common with traditional Islam as old Arabian towns with the social ghettos in European capitals. "In this new war, it is not two civilisations that are confronted with one another but two nihilisms: a pseudo-religious and a world nihilism. They differ only in their level of vitality. The Muslims have plenty but the Europeans seem mentally impotent, thoroughly indifferent. Boredom and complacency have brought down many an empire."

The report that the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw will not be built by Daniel Libeskind or Peter Eisenman but by a Finnish company under the charge of architect Rainer Mahlamäki, a non-Jew, has caused a minor sensation. "Maybe we won because we fulfilled the criteria of the jury which stipulated that the building should have a quiet form, that would not overshadow the Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising. One dramatic element is the structural break at the entrance, which symbolises the passage of the Jews through the Red Sea. Not everyone will pick up on this? Architecture cannot use obvious symbolism; it must remain abstract. I would never design a building in the form of a broken Star of David", the architect explained in an interview.


The New Republic, 08.08.2005 (USA)

Their conservatism prevents the Republicans from reacting appropriately to the threats of a terrorist nuclear attack, warns J. Peter Scoblic. After all, experts have put the odds that an atom bomb will go off on American territory by 2010 as high 50 percent. This is a danger the Neo-cons are unprepared to deal with. "The Bush administration, after all, does not believe in internationally binding commitments, particularly arms control treaties - another outgrowth of conservatism, which insists that any constraint on U.S. sovereignty necessarily harms U.S. interests. In 2001 alone, the Bush White House rejected a provision to enforce the Biological Weapons Convention, which bans the possession of germs for offensive military use, even though it would have given us the ability to inspect suspicious facilities in other countries (and even though the prospect of germ warfare was made unpleasantly clear by the 2001 anthrax attacks)."
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