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24/01/2006

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | Przekroj | L'Espresso | The New Republic |Elet es Irodalom | The Guardian | Revista de Libros |Magyar Narancs | Die Weltwoche | Al Ahram Weekly | London Review of Books | The New York Times


The New York Review of Books, 09.02.2006 (USA)


The historian Timothy Garton Ash attempts to put his finger on the future of Poland under the Kaczynski twins. "One problem for the Kaczynskis and their political allies is that, for all their claim to be a new broom, they have, from the outset, themselves been part of this discredited political system of Poland's third republic. Their reign has started badly, with failed, ill-tempered coalition talks that exemplify precisely the undignified scramble for power and privilege they claim to be leaving behind. Already the first stories of corruption scandals among their entourage are emerging in the Polish press." But, writes Garton Ash, there are no grounds for panic. "Even if the Kaczynski twins do their worst, the country's independence, political freedom, and security are no more under threat than that of Italy and Spain. Young Poles instinctively understand this, which is why they react with a mixture of protests, moving abroad, and duck jokes (referring to the abbreviated version of their name, kaczor, meaning duck)."


Przekroj, 19.01.2006 (Poland)


Ex-president and Solidarnosc-founder Lech Walesa comments on the current political crisis in Poland and the minority government of the Kaczynski brothers, who he has been at odds with for years: "They behave like children, and play around as if they didn't know what's at stake here is Poland and money from Brussels. The people look on patiently, then later they get dissatisfied. But that's what the nation voted for – even if it was only half of them. If they're ashamed now, that'll serve them as a lesson in democracy."

Increasing attention is being paid in Poland to assisted suicide. Marek Rybaczyk describes how the organisation "Dignitas" has given Zurich the dubious honour of being Europe's "death capital". "The number of assisted suicides in Switzerland rose tenfold over the last ten years. People who are weary of life, and often fatally ill, come to Zurich from all over Europe because Dignitas also accepts foreigners and doesn't ask needless questions. You could call it European suicide tourism. The 'civilisation of death' is just around the corner."


L'Espresso, 26.01.2006 (Italy)

Albania is in the midst of a power cut because it has not rained in the "Cursed Mountains" in the North, reports Andrzej Stasiuk, who goes on to describe the beautifully archaic but god-forsaken area around Drin (map). "This summer I saw ten or so wedding guests near Fierze, the men in suits and ties, the women in high-heels, with elegant dresses and freshly cut hair. I watched them walk in single file along a path that led under a cliff reaching up to the sky. The scene was straight out of a surrealist film, or a beautiful dream."


The New Republic, 30.01.2006 (USA)

The Egyptian playwright and satirist Ali Salem climbs into the mind of a terrorist. The text originally appeared in Arabic in the London daily paper Al Hayat. "We are at war, and victory in this war requires clarity and candour. It is impossible to change and to reform this region unless we destroy much of what stands today. We cannot permit the existence of a state in Palestine, or a state in Iraq. We shall strive to destroy the state in all the lands of the Arabs and the Muslims. For the state, with its modern features, with its laws and its constitution, its parliament and its human rights, and its separation of powers and its devotion to development, could lead to human fulfilment, and such an outcome we shall not allow."


Elet es Irodalom, 22.01.2006 (Hungary)

Andras Lanyi writes in his report "The decline of the Kadar Era" about Hungary's failure to come to terms with recent history. "Historical epochs, like literary works, can only be interpreted when they are over. The end gives meaning to what has gone before. For the period between 1956 and 1989 however, this does not apply, because we have still not 'discussed' it yet. When a country does not remember its own history or does not want to, then in my opinion there are at least three reasons at play: the culture of silence has been around for some time, silence is a tried and tested strategy for society as a whole; the people are unwilling to confront their history because their own stories are not compatible with the commonly-accepted explanations of the past; and the past is not yet past." See our feature "An uprising twice suppressed" by Laszlo Földenyi.


The Guardian, 21.01.2006
(UK)

For The Observer, the paper's Sunday magazine, German author Malte Herwig ("Eliten in einer egalitären Welt" - Elites in an egalitarian world) visited Holocaust denier David Irving in his prison cell in Vienna. "What about your outrageous statements, I ask, like the one about more people having died on the back seat of Ted Kennedy's car than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz? Doesn't he think that's deeply offensive? 'It's the English way, and it's not always polite.' Irving likes such tasteless jokes; he finds nothing wrong with making fun of Holocaust survivors and dressing it up as prankish humour. His desire to cause outrage seems rooted in the sort of reckless arrogance you find in some public school boys who think the world belongs to them. It may not be a coincidence that he hails from a country where jokes about the 'Führer' are still beloved by the tabloid press and where what passes for polite society enjoys cracking jokes about Hitler."


Revista de Libros, 20.01.2006
(Chile)

"What we talk about when we talk about love" – this secret, which was among other things the title of Raymond Carver's best-known collection of short stories, now preoccupies Mexican writer Juan Villoro in his column for the current edition of the Chilean Revista de Libros. With the help of an amusing anecdote, he illustrates the thesis that "one of the cultural limitations of the male sex is the inability to express love in well-formed, original sentences. The songs of the troubadour, the tournaments of the Middle Ages, the boleros and serenades were developed to aide this obvious male shortcoming. To my knowledge there is still no website which offers men help with difficulties in expressing themselves. How is it that women miraculously know the right thing to say? There is a real need for modern methods which could bring partners in relationships up to an equal level."


Magyar Narancs, 20.01.2006 (Hungary)


In an interview, historian Eva Standeisky analyses the relationship between authors and power under the communist regime. "Each side believed it was manipulating the other, and in fact they were not entirely wrong.... The party functionaries maintained an idealistic and utopian image of society right into the seventies. They believed intellectuals played a sort of edifying role in society. If the party maintains a good relationship with the writers, they thought, it can win them over to help readers identify with the socialist mentality." At the same time, the Communist Party tried to turn the Hungarians into a true literary people by putting out cheap, large-run editions of the classics: "Certain passages were rewritten or left out, but people who'd never read a book in their lives didn't notice."


Die Weltwoche, 19.01.2006 (Switzerland)

This week's edition focuses on the theme of racism in Switzerland. Editor Bruno Ziauddin, son of an Indian father and a Swiss mother, tells how he bewildered three aggressors at the Locarno Film Festival with his indifference: "Every one of them would have thrashed me in hand to hand combat. That must have been why the other restroom guests – cultivated Swiss-Germans who look like they sign every anti-racism petition shoved at them – all preferred to get back to their campari sodas as quickly as possible. When the skin heads and I were finally alone, two of them held me while the smallest one with a big round face – as smooth as a baby's bum – punched me on the chest and went on shouting in Italian. The border between courage and negligence is often blurred. In any event I heard myself ask the bumface: 'Hey! Can't you speak Zurich? We're in Switzerland, man!"


Al Ahram Weekly, 19.01.2006 (Egypt)

After taking a hammering in recent parliamentary elections, the Egyptian Left is licking its wounds, for example at a seminar held at the Socialist Studies Centre in Cairo. Amira Howeidy comments on proposals by leftist leaders on how to pep up the Left, quoting veteran left-wing lawyer Nabil El-Hilali: "The communist Egyptian Left indulged in theoretical debates about Marxism. It learned Marxist texts by heart, adopted the experiences of others without devising mechanisms to fit our Arab reality. It approached Marxism as if it was sacred, ignoring the fact that it is not a monotheistic religion but a methodology." Howeidy points to el-Hilali's solution: "What is needed, he says, is a broad non-ideological coalition, 'including as many factions as possible and able to steer away from the typical ghettoising of Trotskyites, Nasserists and the like'."


London Review of Books, 23.01.2006
(UK)

Is Google a good thing? John Lancaster portrays the Internet giant and arrives at the conclusion that both its strengths (overflowing spirit of innovation, not only in a technical sense) and its weaknesses (insufficient sense of responsibility in data protection issues) are traceable back to Google's roots in student nerd culture. One thing is certain: whether good or not, Google will change the world. "The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don’t think we've yet seen the first suburbs."


The New York Times, 22.01.2006 (USA)

The New York Times Magazine features two fine articles on the theme of behavioural psychology. In one very long and highly entertaining piece, Charles Siebert encounters true animal personalities, visiting behavioural researchers who specialise in the dorks of the wilderness: "It's typically the males of a given species that seem to figure most prominently in the stupid-behaviour department... But perhaps the most glaring instance of dumb-animal doings is to be found in the female North American fishing spider. Studies have shown that a good number of female fishing spiders are from a very early age highly driven and effective hunters. It is a trait that serves them well most of their lives, particularly in lean times, but it wholly backfires during mating season, when these females can't keep themselves from eating prospective suitors."

And Charles McGrath explains the delights and dangers of text-messaging around the world: "The Chinese language is particularly well-suited to the telephone keypad, because in Mandarin the names of the numbers are also close to the sounds of certain words; to say 'I love you,' for example, all you have to do is press 520. (For 'drop dead,' it's 748.)"
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