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25/10/2005

Magazine Roundup

The New Yorker | Outlook India | Prospect | Reportajes | Plus - Minus | The Guardian | Nepszabadsag | L'Espresso | The Spectator | Le Point | Przekroj | Al Ahram Weekly | Die Weltwoche | The New York Times Book Review


The New Yorker, 31.10.2005 (USA)


Paul Goldberger portrays the architect Santiago Calatrava who plans to build the USA's tallest skyscraper by Lake Michigan in Chicago, a corkscrew-shaped tower with 115 storeys housing freehold flats and a hotel. Taking his cues from Calatrava's first apartment tower, the "Turning Torso" in Malmö, Goldberger sketches out the vision of the Spanish architect. "Dancing is not what skyscrapers are expected to do, and Calatrava's Turning Torso takes some getting used to. Unlike most skyscrapers, which are designed to look immobile no matter how much they may sway in the wind, this tower looks strangely kinetic - as if it were poised to move horizontally."


Outlook India, 31.10.2005
(India)

T. R. Vivek reports on an incident which recently sparked a week-long debate in the blogs, more heated even than than that on Apple's new video iPod series. An Indian business school has sued bloggers for damages after they posted information that was allegedly damaging to its name, thus launching a discussion about the legal status of online postings and the accountability of bloggers. In principle Vivek thinks blogs are good for democratic opinion forming but he has some harsh words for those involved here. "The Indian blogging community is essentially a bitchy, self-indulgent and an almost incestuous network comprising journalists, wannabe-writers and a massive army of geeks who give vent to their creative ambitions on the internet."


Prospect, 24.10.2005 (UK)

In a long essay Michael Coveney mourns the creeping decline of the theatre critic. Who today is worthy of the sort of letter Orson Welles wrote to the young Kenneth Tynan to try to deter him from acting, urging him to dedicate himself to criticism? "You, with your fine capacity for violent opinion, are solely needed out front… You know how to cheer, you are not afraid to hiss, you are audible (to put it mildly), and transparently in love." The lion's share of the blame goes to the daily papers: "Great critics are rare birds; rare birds, though, need a welcoming aviary, and the zookeepers are not on the lookout for such special—and specialist—breeds of plumage any more."

The readers of Prospect and Foreign Policy have voted: the top public intellectual is – way ahead of the rest - Noam Chomsky. Prospect's response is dialectic: is he a brilliant if maddeningly reductionist expositor of linguistics and the US's duplicitous foreign policy as Robin Blackburn would have it, or a knee-jerk anti-American who uses crude and dishonest argumentation much to the distaste of Oliver Kamm? (See the full results of the poll.)


Reportajes, 23.10.2005 (Chile)

After a brief visit to Berlin to receive an honorary doctorate from Humboldt University, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote a letter of thanks which must come as music to the ears of the crisis-ridden Berliners. "I visit Berlin every couple of months and each time I find new galleries, museums, performances, every possible kind of artistic initiative, symposium, workshop, reading – artists, thinkers, creative minds from every continent combining Zen Buddhism with modern dance or discussing the relationship between jazz and philosophy. These undertakings are not only state funded, many are the result of private initiatives, like the International Literature Festival. My Berlin friends tell me that the city is bankrupt but this only makes the Berliners – especially as neither cities nor federal states ever go completely bankrupt – hurl themselves all the more eagerly for the alternative reality of art and literature."

Pablo Marin interviewed the writer Ian McEwan, whose new novel "Saturday" is being much read and discussed in its Spanish translation. "I was chiefly concerned with showing the oddly contradictory feelings of the inhabitants of Western capitals: on the one hand they enjoy immense privileges and relative peace, on the other is the fear of terrorism. There are many things which we take for granted and yet we are oppressed by the knowledge that we have so much to lose."


Plus - Minus, 22.10.2005
(Poland)

In a fascinating interview with the magazine of the daily paper Rzeczpospolita, the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski explains that he emigrated to France in 1982 because he didn't want to be the "bard of the opposition" to the Communists – even if he supported the cause. Once in France he soon saw that no one took him seriously. "Once I was supposed to give an interview on the radio. I introduced myself: I'm a poet. To which the interviewer replied: That's all very well but what do you really do? It dawned on me that it's not enough to just be a poet in France." His life in Paris, says Zagajewski, was "similar to the tragicomedy lived out by many Eastern European exiles. They went to Paris full of missionary zeal, often as heroes, and were confronted with the triviality of Western daily life: unemployment, inflation, corruption, fashion shows, film premieres and the price of oil."


The Guardian, 22.10.2005 (UK)

The writer Ian McEwan is looking forward to the new edition of Peter Schneider's (more) short novel "The Wall Jumper". In terms of psychological precision there is nothing like it in all 28 years of the "anti-fascist protection barrier". "In 1987, I was in Berlin researching the background for a novel I intended to set in the city. I asked friends who among West German writers had written good novels about the Wall. It seemed a perfect subject - a near-comic monstrosity, a global political schism that had turned into cement and wire and sliced right through back yards, sitting rooms even, dividing families, lovers, and defining two nations held in a perpetual embrace of love and hate. Only Schneider's name came up. There was, it seemed, no thriving West German Wall literature - (in the East, it was another matter). Perhaps it was because writers, whose politics were generally well to the left of centre, found the Wall an embarrassment as a subject, an intractable problem posed by socialism."


Nepszabadsag, 22.10.2005 (Hungary)

On the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Peter Szigeti points out that his generation "was unable to get any information on the revolution from the oppositional forums of the so-called 'second public sphere' or from the myth-making machines of its parents and grandparents, or from the school books." And the historical distance necessary to take an objective stance on an event is still lacking. "1956 is and will remain primarily a political topic as long as the people who experienced the revolution from one side or the other are still politically active. Twenty and thirty-year-olds today are less interested in politics. As long as every year on October 23 the slumbering revolutionary is awakened in some politician or the other, my generation will not begin with the real process of interpretation."


L'Espresso, 21.10.2005
(Italy)

Umberto Eco uses the publication in Italian of "On Bullshit", the tirade by his American philosopher colleague Harry G. Frankfurt, as an excuse to use the word "bullshit" at least two dozen times in sixty lines. "Bullshit differs from balderdash in that it is a false assertion that is served as the truth. Somebody who talks bullshit really not bothered about whether what he's saying is true or false."

Gianni Perelli visits the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera which plans to go on air with an English programme from April 2006. What are their aims? "Ten million new viewers in the first year and the revolution of the global news network. The primary target is the USA where our website already gets the most hits," says Nigel Parsons the future head of Al-Jazeera International.


The Spectator, 21.10.2005 (UK)


"In its death throes, it could bequeath the world several new Muslim nations, a nuclear Middle East and a stronger China." Mark Steyn sees dark days ahead for the West, in view of the continuing decline of the former Soviet Union. "What would you do if you were Putin? What have you got to keep your rotting corpse of a country as some kind of player? You’ve got nuclear know-how — which a lot of ayatollahs and dictators are interested in. You’ve got an empty resource-rich eastern hinterland — which the Chinese are going to wind up with one way or the other.... Given that even alcoholic Slavs with a life expectancy of 56 will live to see Vladivostok return to its old name of Haishenwei, Moscow might as well flog it to Beijing instead of just having it snaffled out from under."

For patriotic reasons if none other, Rod Liddle is delighted at the Nobel Prize in Literature for Harold Pinter. He quotes in high spirits the following four-liner from 2003, with which Pinter commented on the American invasion of Iraq:

"There's no escape,
The big pricks are out,
They'll fuck everything in sight,
Watch your back."


Le Point, 21.10.2005 (France)

Le Point publishes excerpts from a long essay on this year's Festival d'Avignon and its artistic director Jan Fabre by French intellectual, philosopher and journalist Regis Debray, calling the essay "incisive libel". In Debray's words, the festival was "more than a scandal" providing "proof of cultural collapse." In the excepts published by Le Point, Debray reminisces about the thematic and stylistic balance of the festival when he first attended in 1956. In 2005 by contrast, Debray writes the event is hardly to be topped in terms of hardness and aggression. "People fight, backstab and slit each others' throats. It all happens live, and those in charge don't stop rubbing it in. 'The world is violent, and so are its performances. You want wit? Well don't count on us to sweeten the bitter pill. Have a good look at today's hard times, or leave the theatre.' The argument doesn't carry a lot of weight. Is there no other suffering than psychosis and perversion?"


Przekroj, 20.10.2005 (Poland)

Is Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan the last chance for Euro-Islam? Does he represent "Isalm with a human face?" Jakub Kumoch portrays the controversial Islamic scholar as a tragic figure. "Ramadan is the most influential Islamic thinker in the West today, an idol of Muslim elites in Western Europe, where he is called the 'Islamic Martin Luther King' and the most important reformer of the 21st century. At the same time, he is often accused of anti-Semitism, supporting Islamic terror and betraying the West. For some, he is the sole hope for peace between Muslims and the European majority society, while for others he's an Al-Qaeda agent." For Kumoch, this ambivalence is also one reason for Ramadan's coming across as more and more resigned. "For traditionalists he is too progressive, for the assimilated Muslims he's too conservative. He wanted to contribute to understanding but now he's being accused on both sides of the ditch."


Al Ahram Weekly, 20.10.2005 (Egypt)

"Very little of what goes on in the public sphere these days could hearten the intellectual", writes Mona Anis, explaining why as an Egyptian she is happy about Harold Pinter's winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. She recalls and interview in which Pinter tells how obscene it is not to become politically engaged, when so many people are suffering in the world. "Some 20 years or more after I had first been introduced to Pinter's work I was hooked on him once more, for he had given me the assurance that great artists have a role to play in fighting against all the ugliness that surrounds us, and that they may, contrary to what is claimed by many of those who benefit from the status quo, become better artists in so doing. In recognising Pinter, the 2005 Nobel Committee receives my heartfelt thanks for assuring me that there are others that still share this point of view. This is particularly so, since many intellectuals, writers and artists in Egypt are today organising in an attempt to affect change in a cultural establishment riddled with corruption and fraud, which employs intellectuals as apologists for the regime, and which does not promote anything apart from the most stunted propaganda."

Homer becomes Omar, Bart becomes Badr, Marge becomes Mona. And the Simpsons become the Al-Shamshoon family on Egyptian television screens, albeit in an Arabised version, as Hicham Safieddine writes: with the voices of well-known Egyptian actors, and without references to sex and alcohol.


Die Weltwoche, 20.10.2005 (Switzerland)

In the third and last part of the series on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Urs Gehriger looks at the modern propaganda war led by terrorists on the Internet. "Al Qaeda is the first terror organisation that has extended its terrain from the ground into cyberspace. And at the top is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The soldiers he sends into the digital battle are young, few are over twenty. While the Jihad led their fathers to Afghanistan in the 1980s, they sit comfortably in Internet cafes. In place of kalashnikovs they use laptops, handycams and DVDs. Hardly a single attack in Iraq is not recorded on camera. A little later, the 'reportage' is already on the net. The fighter runs with the film to a computer and uploads it onto a dozen Jihad websites. 'For a 15-second clip, the whole uploading process takes no more than a half hour', says Evan Kohlmann. At 26, the founder of Global Terror Alert has become one of the most sought-after consultants for people wanting to know more about Islamic websites."

Margrit Sprecher writes a portrait of Swiss national Josef Ackermann, head of the Deutsche Bank, whose radical measures are bringing him increasingly under fire. "But Josef Ackermann looks just like he always did: sanguine and carefree. His quiff of hair is freshly blow-dried and his back is broader than ever. And beside the small-headed, thin-lipped, narrow-nosed executive board members he comes across like a bon vivant who's just waiting for the fun to start. That, however, takes a long time."


The New York Times Book Review, 22.10.2005 (USA)

With this book, Mao has taken his place beside Stalin and Hitler, writes Nicholas D. Kristoph about "Mao. The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Yet Kristoph stops short of unconditional praise, wanting to know more about the book's sources. "I hope that Chang and Halliday will share some of their source materials, either on the Web or with other scholars, so that it will be possible to judge how fairly and accurately they have reached their conclusions." Here a short summary of the review as audio file.

In the New York Times Magazine, Paul Greenberg reports on the fight for the Chilean sea bass (image), which 25 years after being discovered for its culinary qualities, is now threatened with extinction. One specimen of the tasty fish can bring in up to 1,000 dollars, which leads thousands to engage in pirate fishery, including Captain Vargas, who was caught red-handed: "From Chile to Argentina to the British-controlled islands of the South Atlantic and east to Africa and Australia, hundreds of scientists, undercover investigators and government agencies have joined forces to protect the last viable stocks of this slow-growing deep-water predator."
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