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13/12/2005

Magazine Roundup

Al Ahram | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New Yorker | Il Foglio | Elet es Irodalom | Le Monde diplomatique | The Times Literary Supplement | L' Espresso | The Guardian | Die Weltwoche | The Spectator | Gazeta Wyborcza | London Review of Books.


Al Ahram Weekly, 08.12.2005 (Egypt)

In France, there is much talk about the country's colonial history and possible connections to the recent unrest in the suburbs. In Egypt, on the occasion of the WTO summit in Hong Kong and the African-French summit in Mali (news story), the author Gamal Nkrumah reflects on the relations between Africa and France. Nkrumah feels that France isn't looking very good. One the one hand, France claims to be concerned about the African economy, "but then again, it is ironic that even as France purports to support African development, it remains the biggest beneficiary of European Union farm subsidies, worth more than 11 billion dollar in 2004 ... Europe, which does not produce cotton, has indicated that it will press for a substantial cut in cotton subsidies at the Hong Kong meeting and France has tried desperately to mitigate the negative impact of EU subsidies on African economies. But, it would certainly be foolish to off-load the responsibility for Paris's actions onto anyone else.""

Hani Mustafa presents two Iranian films that played at the Cairo Film Festival, which both play against the backdrop of the Iran Iraq war. Reza Aazamian's "A Border for Life" reminds Mustafa of John Boorman's "Hell in the Pacific", in which an American and a Japanese end up together on a deserted island. In Aazamian's film, a blind Iranian has to help a lame Iraqi out of of the line of fire. This constellation "may seem obvious to the point of crudeness. The director manages, to a large extent, to introduce subtlety into this simplistic scenario and the way in which he avoids naïve symbolism recalls, once again, 'Hell in the Pacific'."


Le Nouvel Observateur, 08.12.2005 (France)

The French government recently passed a law that obliges teachers to emphasize the "positive aspects" of French colonial history. Since then, colonial history has been a topic of hot debate in France. The Nouvel Obs put together an entire dossier on the subject this week. The historian Marc Ferro characterizes the law as "craziness": "Historians can only combat such an ordinance. The ruling state must not define the morality of history and its actors, nor justify its own politics as though it has always embodied goodness. This temptation recalls the totalitarian states and Kruschev's comment about 'dangerous historians'".

In further articles, Claude Askolovitch describes the background and various positions on the present debate. In an interview, the historian Pascal Blanchard warns against a "war of memories" . Another article explains how the "post-colonial amnesia, false promises of integration and racist discrimination" stirred up the youth in the suburbs to rise up against the "French deception".

Philosopher Jean Baudrillard writes in an essay that's not always entirely clear, about the "hidden tear" in our societies which explains the French "non" to the European constitution. This is not to be understood in political or economic terms but rather as an insurgency against the de-realisation of the population through the media and politics. "What can one expect of a people who are virtualised by surveys, incarcerated in statistics and harassed by the media? One day, they're bound to throw off this yoke with a 'non' that is as inexplicable as it is unexpected."


The New Yorker, 19.12.2005 (US)

Ken Auletta asks in a very long and informative piece, whether Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who has been publisher of the New York Times since 1992, can save himself and the paper. "Twice in the last three years, the Times newsroom has suffered the equivalent of a nervous breakdown, and critics say that Sulzberger has managed the latest crisis as poorly as he did the episode involving the fabrications of the reporter Jayson Blair, which led, in 2003, to the firing of Howell Raines, the executive editor. These newsroom crises have come when the Times can least afford them - during a period of technological and economic uncertainty that has affected the entire industry. The Times’ stock price fell 33.2 per cent between December 31, 2004, and October 31, 2005 - sixty per cent more than the industry average, according to Merrill Lynch newspaper analysts. The operating profit of the Times Company has also slipped in each of the past three years. Owing to the cost of fuel, newsprint, and employee benefits, expenditures are increasing by between four and five per cent a year and revenues by only about three per cent, a senior Times corporate executive says; this person is worried that 'it’s just a matter of time until we start losing money.'"


Il Foglio, 10.12.2005 (Italy)

The attack on Israeli athletes by a Palestinian commando during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich (background) and the Mossad's pursuit of the perpetrators inspired Steven Spielberg to make his new film "Munich". In an article published in the weekend supplement (pdf), and with reference to the unrelenting Israeli acts of retaliation (one of the organisers of the attack in Munich was killed in Tunis as recently as 1991), Alessandro Giuli deals with the controversial issue of the borders democratic states are prepared to cross when they are at war. "At this stage it's clear that in the event of war the State is not only prepared to violate all civil rights, but also to ignore all the ethic standards which should guide it. In the end there's only one thing the State will always protect: itself."


Elet es Irodalom, 09.12.2005 (Hungary)

Under the ruins of the cathedral in the little city of Szekesfehervar, in which 15 Hungarian kings were crowned and buried, a businessman, supported by the city, wants to build a "Pantheon of Hungarian Kings". The art historians Piroska Biczo and Klara Mentenyi are appalled by this "grandiose parade of kitch": "Forty meters under the ruins, a row of talking and moving statues would evoke the past. The visitors would travel down into the 10 000 square meter complex on an escalator to see all that is glorious, old and Hungarian – from the holy crones to the old Hungarian Lament of Maria to the folktales of King Matthias." The authors see this as evidence that Hungarians like to idealize their history. "What can we identify with? Only with fairy tales and legends of our history? Or with catastrophes for which we are to blame?"

Media theorist Peter György claims that politicians profit from the infotainment of commercial television broadcasters: "Those who consider themselves to be the passive objects of an opaque world plagued by natural disasters, won't expect much from society and won't call politicians to account for their decisions. Behind the images of the flood and fires, there is a superstitious lesson about the world's inscrutability, about being at the mercy of fate ... Every evening, 'society' is depicted as a myth and powerlessness, a natural law; contemporary stories of late modern society, which has been built on rational norms, are not told."


Le Monde diplomatique, 12.12.2005 (France / Germany)

Mischa Gabovitch publishes an interesting article on a potential new geo-political alliance. He points out that giant new Russian pipelines also run through Turkey to Europe. Gabovitch explores the history of Russian-Turkish relations, writes about their mutual ignorance of each other's cultures and reaches the following conclusion: "In the 15 years that Russia and Turkey have no longer been neighbours, economic and political relations between the two countries have reached a tremendous intensity. Owing mainly to the energy it supplies to the country, Russia ranks second only to Germany as Turkey's most important trading partner. Turkish building contractors are very active in Russia; only recently a chic new Turkish-owned shopping mall was built in Moscow's city centre. Turkey is the most popular holiday destination for Russian tourists, who today represent the largest group of visitors to the country's southern and western coast. There are also regular visits on a political level between the two countries. And despite the barely suppressed differences on the subject of Chechnya, there is much talk about a new Russian-Turkish partnership that could play an important role in the two countries and serve as a counterbalance to the EU."


The Times Literary Supplement, 09.12.2005 (U.K.)

Philosopher George Steiner celebrates the book "Apocalyptic Satirist", in which Edward Timm honours the "counter journalist" Karl Kraus. Steiner even hopes that English speakers might be tempted to take a look at Kraus. "The millions of angry words which Kraus wrote addressed millions of instances of semantic waste, of 'anti-matter'. In the beginning, he quipped bitterly, was not the Word, but the press."


L`Espresso, 15.12.2005 (Italy)

The two bestseller authors Alessandro Baricco ("Questa storia") and Pietrangelo Buttafuoco ("Le uova del drago"), give a crystal clear picture of Italy's social and political conflicts, writes Edmondo Berselli. Barrico is a leftist from Turin while Buttafouco is a Sicilian and a right-winger. The competition between the two authors is being exploited to fight out a political proxy war, Berselli observes. "It's noticeable that Giuliano 'Giulianone' Ferrara (chief editor of Foglio) is continually providing covering fire for Buttafuoco: 'Pietrangelo Buttafuoco has the pathological sensitivity of Louis Ferdinand Celine but, luckily for him and for us, he writes in the soothing language of Alessandro Manzoni.' And yet another jibe from the Foglio team: 'A very fascistic and extremely biased novel'. 'A glorious enemy'. 'He should be taught in schools' (Alessandro Giuli). Or 'He's turning into a bloody fascist'. 'But he's good and he's daring' (this from Stefano Di Michele, who recalls the skirmish at l'Unita back in the early 1990s when Buttafouco wrote about the 'Italian Century' for the paper)."


The Guardian, 10.12.2005 (U.K.)

It's greed that is driving the West to China, writes Ian Buruma in an essay, and goes on to contest the popular theory that capitalism strengthens the middle class and brings with it democracy. "The Chinese Communist party appears to have struck a bargain with the educated urban elite, the very people whose children demonstrated on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, and other cities all over China, in 1989. In exchange for political obedience, for relinquishing democratic rights, the middle class is promised stability, order, and ever increasing prosperity."


Die Weltwoche, 12.12.2005 (Switzerland)

Talking to Simon Brunner and Michael Krobath, fitness pope Werner Kieser attacks the German health authorities. "Year after year, health insurance funds in Germany spend forty billion on treatments for the German population's back problems. I recently told a health insurance representative I could bring that figure down to four billion using a four-minute exercise programme that any German could do. You just need one piece of equipment: our F3. The guy looked at me, and I thought the penny had dropped. Finally he replied 'But Mr. Kieser, you must be aware of how many jobs that would destroy?' And of course, he's right."


The Spectator, 10.12.2005 (U.K.)

Having visited the Art Basel Miami, William Cash describes the price bubble on the contemporary art market. Invited to a dinner hosted by the art fair's sponsor Bulgari, Cash writes, "as I stood inside the art deco vault, sipping champagne, I overheard the following remark from a super-rich American collector as he grouched about the opening day of the fair, 'I gave my wife an unlimited budget — and she exceeded it.'"


Gazeta Wyborcza, 10.12.2005 (Poland)

In Poland, the play "Wilgefortis", which is to be performed at the Theater Wierszalin, has sparked a debate about freedom in the arts. The play is about a princess who is to be married against her will. She prays to God to let her grow a beard and he obliges. As punishment, she is crucified. This image – crucified Jesus as a woman with a beard and naked breasts – has so enraged the national Catholic "League of Polish Families" that it was able to block the performance. The director Piotr Tomaszuk considers this sheer censorship. "Theatre is like a gallery, a special space in which fiction rules. If someone wants to question that because they think that artists don't have the right to think freely in this space, that amounts to a return of the censor."


London Review of Books, 15.12.2005 (U.K.)

Christmas is a crime against architecture, writes Peter Campbell, taking considerable offence to the neon tingle tangle that is festooned over all facades. Why don't we offer our buildings a little shadow in which their true beauty could come to light, he asks? "The best obituary for a dusky pre-electric world that I know is Junichiro Tanizaki’s wonderful essay 'In Praise of Shadows', written in 1933. He describes how the virtues of traditional Japanese rooms depended on 'variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows'; how ancestors, 'forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends'."
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