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25/04/2006

Magazine Roundup

The Spectator | The Walrus Magazine | Outlook India | The New Yorker | Przekroj | Gazeta Wyborcza | Il Foglio | L'Espresso | Die Weltwoche | Babelia | The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | Le point | Foreign Affairs | Al Ahram Weekly | The New York Times


The Spectator, 22.04.2006 (UK)

Conservative British MP Boris Johnson has come back sobered from a visit to China: "It was towards the end of my trip to China that the tall, beautiful communist-party girl turned and asked the killer question. 'So, Mr Boris Johnson,' she said, 'have you changed your mind about anything?' And I was forced to reply that, yes, I had. Darned right I had. I had completely changed my mind about the chances of democracy in China.... One night I had dinner with a charming group of young Chinese professionals, all of whom had studied in England, and who you might therefore expect to have drunk deep of our liberal political potion. I began by pointing out that I was that exotic British phenomenon, a 'shadow' minister. Of course, I said patronisingly, you don’t have an opposition, do you? 'No,' they smiled. 'Well,' I said, 'wouldn’t it be a good thing?' I waved my arms at the panorama of Shanghai behind us, where illuminated pleasure boats chugged along the river, and the fangs of 300 skyscrapers probed the night, soon to be joined by 300 more. 'What if you get fed up with the people running this show? Wouldn’t you like to kick them out? Kick the bastards out, eh?' I stabbed my chopsticks at a passing squid. 'Actually, no,' said Oswald, a nice guy with specs who had studied at Keble. He didn’t think the British system would work in China at all. 'I think a one-party state is good for China right now,' he said, and the squid, more elusive in death than in life, shot from my fumbling sticks and lay on the tablecloth in a metaphor of Western incomprehension."


The Walrus Magazine, 01.05.2006 (Canada)

Montreal always had a bit more je ne sais quoi than the rest of Canada, writes Daniel Sanger, with fond recollections of the biker war, and the tow-truck driver and pet-store bombings in the early Nineties. Last November Sanger caught a glimpse of the old Montreal again, when his local greengrocer was firebombed. He recalls: "It was a sorry sight on a crisp Tuesday morning: charred boxes of soy milk, blackened fruit and veg, shards of plate glass, racks of condiments and cans toppled. And Bala, the sweet, shy, always-smiling Sri Lankan owner—who had bought the store just a few months earlier and who, from the first visit, wouldn't let my children off the premises without a cookie or a handful of Smarties—was looking as pale as a Tamil guy can get." Sanger then examines whether this was an insurance job or the work of Bob, the competition.


Outlook India, 01.05.2006 (India)

Delhi is fantastic! Delhi is India's economic, cultural and consumer capital. But woe be to those who want for money, a thick skin or social ties. In the title story Anjali Puri sets the record straight on this Moloch of a city. "In power Delhi, historical arbiter of regional destinies, self-importance and dehumanising arrogance start at the top, and work their way down. It's an officious world of calls never returned, siren wailing politicians' cavalcades shoving even ambulances off the roads ... From chowkidars to builders, the city is adept at sorting out its occupants by income, social status and professional standing—to work out how they can be used. Yesterday's objects of desire are taken off guest lists within a day. (Ask Natwar Singh or Brajesh Mishra.) Name plates and visiting cards displaying self-generated titles such as Former Minister, Former MP, Former Principal, Former Chief Justice of India and Retired Ambassador abound. Loss of status is the Delhiite's ultimate nightmare, and he'll hang on to it with bleeding nails, if required."


The New Yorker, 01.05.2006 (USA)


In a wonderful article, Bill Buford tells of how during his search of Tuscany for the secrets of simple Italian cooking, a butcher taught him the art of cutting up a whole pig. And on his return to the USA he purchased a sow to practise his newly-acquired skill. "We had many meals—four hundred and fifty of them, or what worked out to less than fifty cents a plate—as we ate from the snout (which went into the sausages) to the tail (which I added to the ragu). But the lesson wasn't in the animal’'s economy. This pig, we knew precisely, had been slaughtered for our table, and we ended up feeling an affection for it that surprised us."


Przekroj, 21.04.2006 (Poland)

A "revolution" is what the Polish magazine calls the new daily newspaper on the Polish market. The Dziennik (daily paper) published by Axel Springer (one of the largest newspaper publishing companies in Europe with around 150 newspapers and magazines in 30 countries – ed) is out to become a serious contender to the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza and the conservative Rzeczpospolita. The Gazeta, in particular, is seen by the ruling Right as overly critical. Dziennik has very different aims, as the editor-in-chief, Robert Krasowski, explains in an interview: "The reader does not like to be told what to think, or when a newspaper expresses its opinions too clearly. Which is why we will be a revolution: absolutely objective! Without emotion!"


Gazeta Wyborcza, 23.04.2006 (Hungary)

The historian and political scientist Anna Wolff-Poweska analyses foreign policy in Poland today and finds "a 'Yes' to expansion which goes hand in hand with a 'No' to consolidation, unconcealed enthusiasm at the refusal of French and Dutch voters to kowtow, the uncompromising position 'Nice or death', the patronising comments about the Weimar triangle as a 'loose conglomerate of states' – all of which strengthens the image of our county as a collection of pompous and frustrated individuals with overly delicate egos who cannot be counted on in the search for constructive solutions." The Kaczynski brothers are at least partly to blame for this image, because their interior politics are based on personal phobias, and these are seeping out into their foreign policy, according to Wolff-Poweska.

There is scarcely a theatre director in Poland so en vogue as Jan Klata. Recently he put on a piece at Warsaw's Teatr Rozmaitosci, which shows contemporary Poland from the point of view of the "loser", the poor and the unemployed. For critic Roman Pawlowski, Klata is a "spoilsport" – "The piece 'Wez, przestan' (come on, give it a rest) is badly written and without narrative or literary value. It is reminiscent of video footage taken in a dirty underpass with hidden camera." But: "Klata has the guts to show the capital through the eyes of people who stink. And he forces the elitist visitors of this trendy theatre to spend an hour and a half thinking about people whom they would otherwise not give two seconds to."


Il Foglio, 22.04.2006 (Italy)


Edoardo Camurri reports in the weekend supplement about a train journey on the day of the elections which afforded him deep insights into grass roots Italy. "There I discovered that the innermost needs of the Italians are the basics of comfort. Morals had nothing to do with it, for either the Prodi or the Berlusconi camp, and in this case, more important than the fate of Italy was our own survival. We all felt this. We were a bundle of identical expectations and hopes. And we understood this at the very moment when the Italian rail service decided during a stop in Florence to compensate travellers for the 14,000 second delay. Pizza boxes arrived and bags with burgers from McDonalds. And everyone was overjoyed. Free food!"


L'Espresso, 27.04.2006 (Italy)


Silvio Berlusconi had counted on the votes of expatriate Italians, who are reputed to be conservative. Umberto Eco puts the fact that these hopes were dashed down to the expatriates' perceptiveness: "For the most part, the expatriates don't read Il Giornale, Il Foglio or Libero, and they don't watch the programmes on Vespa (more) or the news on Rai or Mediaset. So they were never tempted to believe Berlusconi's propaganda that Italy enjoys respect abroad, and that our prime minister is taken seriously by the world's major players, who he ate pizza with every evening and lectured on how to manage the world."


Die Weltwoche, 20.04.2006 (Switzerland)

Urs Gehriger is surprised to learn that since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected, most Tehran residents wear their seatbelts when they drive. For Abolqasem Khoshrow, press advisor to former president Mohammad Khatami, this indicates "the time of martyrdom is over" – no one wants to die a meaningless death. But Gehriger argues that it's worth taking a closer look: "Many Iranians find Ahmadinejad's warlike language against the West suspect. Most voters are neither Islamists nor radicals. But the vast majority belong to the lower middle class. They feel attracted to Ahmadinejad, who dresses and speaks like they do. He declares war on the corrupt business elites and promises the world to the poor. They still applaud, but that could change if he doesn't deliver."


Babelia, 22.04.2006 (Spain)


Veteran Spanish publisher and author Esther Tusquets writes about what she sees as the less-than-joyful phenomenon of literary fashion: "I am continually hearing and reading that people are no longer buying books and no longer reading. And the blame for this is put on television or the Internet. Earlier people used to say movies were to blame. It's not true, the true enemies of good books are neither movies, nor television, nor the new media. The bestsellers are to blame, books which make little or no demand on the reader and are pushed by literary prizes and advertising campaigns that run into the millions (or, more encouragingly, by spontaneous word of mouth propaganda). These books suit the horrid adjective 'media-compatible': they are to blame for fashion's dominance over culture."


The Guardian, 22.04.2006 (UK)


Julia Evans talks with Imre Kertesz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, about life and writing after Auschwitz: "'What writers can do in this symbolic ice age is to preserve and present individual identities, individual existences that you can pick out from the flow and present as something that moves people, or shocks them.' We now live in a state of such conformity that we are in danger of forgetting those existences? 'Exactly.'"


Elet es Irodalom, 21.04.2006 (Hungary)

The border fences surrounding the exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta are to be raised, in an effort to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. That makes them higher than the Berlin Wall, writes Gabor Fränkl, who compares them with the fences in Israel's occupied territories. "It's irrational to criticise Israel about the 'illegal' border fences (in some places: walls). These fences saved human lives because they prevented terror attacks on civilians. Both the European Union and Spain have voiced critique of purported Israeli violations of human rights, but they've also put up border fences in the interests of the common good. However in Ceuta and Mililla the fences aren't there to protect against suicide bombers. In the absence of a European consensus, they're nothing other than hasty measures to keep out immigrants hoping for a better life."


Le point, 20.04.2006 (France)

Elie Wiesel, author and laureate of the Nobel Prize for Peace, talks in an interview about his new novel "Un desir fou de danser" (Seuil), his interest in madness and his life as a Holocaust survivor. Asked where he stands in the current debate about multiculturalism, he answers: "I think multiculturalism is a boon. Every human group has the right to be what it is, and to assert its right to culture, memory and respect. I'm a Jew, but I believe that no religion, tradition or people is superior to any other. And it's my goal to stand up for that view, and as a Jew to contribute to greater respect of others – of course on the condition that they respect me as well."


Foreign Affairs, 01.05.2006 (USA)

A committee of inquiry of the American armed forces has been analysing the regime of Saddam Hussein for the past two years. Dozens of key figures were questioned, and hundreds of thousands of documents perused. The 230-page report was released in February (here a 7.2 MB pdf file). Publishers Kevin Woods, James Lacy and Williamson Murray summarise the report's findings in a still very respectably-sized article in the May/June issue.


Al Ahram Weekly, 20.04.2006 (Egypt)

Ismail Serageldin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, thinks the West didn't need to ban the Muhammad caricatures to keep anger in bounds: disapproval would have been enough. This would have prevented extremists of all stripes from using the conflict to their advantage: "Looking back over the controversy it is clear that extremists on both sides benefited from it.... Some used the episode to reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, others to argue against free speech. Some used it to stoke hatred and fear of the Other, to exacerbate the cumulative mistrust and suspicion that has built up over the decades between Muslims and the West."


The New York Times, 23.04.2006 (USA)

Thanks to a questionable arrangement between Google and the Chinese government, when you enter "Falun Gong" in google.cn, you come up empty handed. In a long article for the New York Times Magazine, Clive Thompson discusses the integrity of the means used by Google to enter the gigantic market, and explains how the "Great Firewall of China" functions: "The Chinese government requires the private-sector companies that run these fiber-optic networks to specially configure "router" switches at the edge of the network, where signals cross into foreign countries. These routers — some of which are made by Cisco Systems, an American firm — serve as China's new censors. If you log onto a computer in downtown Beijing and try to access a Web site ... that is on the government's blacklist — and there are lots of them — it won't get through."
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