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15/01/2008

Magazine Roundup

Magazine Roundup, which appears every Tuesday at 12 p.m., is originally published by Perlentaucher.

Le Nouvel Observateur | The New Yorker | ResetDoc | Europa | Le point | The Economist | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times | Nueva Sociedad
Le Nouvel Observateur 10.01.2008 (France)

"What he says is scary." With these words the magazine introduces its interview with Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, whose new novel "Le Village de l'Allemand ou le journal des freres Schiller" (Gallimard) relates how two Algerians living in the Parisian banlieues discover that their father, a hero of the Algerian liberation movement FLN, had formerly been an SS officer. For the Nouvel Obs, the novel "strikes at the heart of our illusions." Sansal has this to say about the situation in his country: "We live under a national-Islamic regime, in an environment heavily influenced by terrorism, and it's patently clear that only a very thin line separates Islamism from Nazism. For Algerian youths, their country is an 'open-air prison.' And for those gradually perishing in the cities, it's a 'concentration camp.' They feel imprisoned not only by walls and impenetrable borders, but also by a dark and violent regime that doesn't even leave them room to dream."


The New Yorker 21.01.2008 (USA)

Ryan Lizza analyses the New Hampshire primary, pointing to a dangerous trend emerging for Barack Obama: the impact of race: "Pollsters are trying to determine whether he experienced the so-called 'Bradley effect.' In 1982, when the African-American mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, ran for governor, the final polls showed him with an average lead of eight points over his white Republican rival, George Deukmejian. And yet Deukmejian won, by a point. A similar phenomenon occurred in Virginia in 1989, when L. Douglas Wilder ran for governor against a white opponent, Marshall Coleman. He appeared to be leading by ten points but won by less than one. In both cases, white voters were more willing to tell pollsters that they supported the black candidate than they were to actually vote for him."

Ken Auletta's portrait of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't find its way into our last Magazine Roundup. Auletta was allowed to attend a meeting where several engineers presented upgrades of an existing product: "Page said that the engineers were not ambitious enough. Brin agreed, and said that the proposals were 'muddled' and too cautious. 'We wanted something big,' Page added. 'Instead, you proposed something small. Why are you so resistant?'… In meetings such as this, Page and Brin are like a tag team, taking turns as they chide employees for devising something that is merely a 'cute' solution, not a fundamental one."


ResetDoc 14.01.2008 (Italy)

After its debate on the Left and Islam, ResetDoc has now kicked off a new debate on Western thinkers' concepts of democracy. This issue features contributions by Bolognese political scientist Carlo Galli, New York political scientist Andrew Arato and Cairo philosopher Hassan Hanafi. None of the three supports an idea of democracy based on the individual. While Gallo proposes a notion that would permit the coexistence of cultures, Arato criticises the misuse of the concept of democracy for imperialist purposes, naming the Iraq War as an example. Hanafi agrees: "Democrats and Republicans in the USA share the same ideology of hegemony to back the invasion of Iraq and support Israel. Democracy here is used as a tool to implement the liberal economy and not as a value in itself. It even serves as a camouflage, a cover-up to hide exploitation and hegemony."


Europa 12.01.2008 (Poland)

In an interview, historian Karl Schlögel identifies a major knowledge deficit in Germany's image of Eastern Europe. The once uniform "Eastern Bloc" is now seen as a group of individual countries, each with their own peculiarities. But what these consist of seems to be grasped only by the younger generations, who benefit from direct contact. "Today's residents of Warsaw and Berlin share common experiences, the tempo of life is the same, they use the same gadgets and appliances. This kind of cosmopolitanism is perhaps less spectacular than that of one hundred years ago, which has fascinated me for years. Nevertheless it is shared by huge masses of people. And through it, we are becoming immune to nationalistic temptations."


Le point 10.01.2008 (France)

Philosopher Frederic Worms recommends (re-)reading philosopher Henri Bergson as an "antidote to depression." Worms, publisher of a new critical edition of Bergson's works put out by PUF, believes Bergson's analysis of consciousness and creative life is still relevant – and useful – today. "The paradox of humans is that their intelligence is the greatest success of their lives, and yet at the same time it alienates them from life. Intelligence is by nature depressive, because it brings to mind risks and death… Humans are for that reason depressive animals. It's no accident that like Freudian neurosis, depression is the sickness of the century. Returning to life means reencountering life's necessities and uncertainties, but also its innovation, creativity and joy. It's this polarity of our life and thought that makes Bergson relevant today. You also see it in Freud. Freud allows us to understand our inner conflicts. Bergson, by contrast, helps us recover ourselves."


The Economist 11.01.2008 (UK)

Superficially it looks as if there were cause to fear Islamic radicalisation in Indonesia. Groups of Islamists stage violent attacks and want to ban bikinis being worn – not only by local women. But at second glance things are less drastic than they seem, the magazine assures us: "Indonesia is a huge, varied and complex place, and the radicals - even though some have a semi-official platform - are a small and not very influential minority. Contrary evidence abounds: liberals as well as radicals are making inroads. They have won a big battle over a 'pornography' law that Islamists proposed in 2006. It would have banned bikinis and short skirts, for non-Muslim women too, and prohibited the Hindu minority's traditional dances."

Elet es Irodalom 11.01.2008 (Hungary)

Theologian Tamas Majsai is crestfallen by the passive reaction of the churches to the rally of the Hungarian Guard for more action against so-called "Gypsy crime" (more here). Majsai would have liked to have seen Hungarians following the example of the Prague Archbishop Miloslav Vlk who in a recent Nazi march in the Czech capital personally stood in front of the Jewish graveyard to protect it. "Ombudsmen have called on the president, public dignitaries and the political elite to make a clear statements regarding the Hungarian Guard. But they did not think about our churches. But if these would only come together one time to declare this racist travesty a sin, I very much doubt that anyone would continue to applaud this devilish promulgation. And membership in the Guard would also become shameful. But the churches are doing nothing."


The New York Times 14.01.2008 (USA)

"Moralization is a psychological state that can be turned on and off like a switch," explains psychologist Steven Pinker in an entertaining and enlightening article on the workings of the moral instinct. "But whether an activity flips our mental switches to the 'moral' setting isn't just a matter of how much harm it does. We don't show contempt to the man who fails to change the batteries in his smoke alarms or takes his family on a driving vacation, both of which multiply the risk they will die in an accident. Driving a gas-guzzling Hummer is reprehensible, but driving a gas-guzzling old Volvo is not; eating a Big Mac is unconscionable, but not imported cheese or creme brulee. The reason for these double standards is obvious: people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles."


Nueva Sociedad 13.01.2008 (Argentina)

Latin America is the most heavily urbanised part of the Third World," it says in the Nueva Sociedad editorial. Which is why the current edition of the magazine is all about megacities. Juan Villoro's article (pdf) on his home town Mexico City is particularly well worth reading. "Walter Benjamin's recommendation 'to lose oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a forest' was not so easy to accomplish in his day because the urban landscape still had all its points of reference which prevented a complete loss of orientation. In a metropolis like the Mexican capital however the flaneur who goes walking to lose himself has been long been replaced by the deportee who goes out in fear of not finding his way home. The odyssey is our daily bread, the greatest challenge we face is getting back to the point we left off in one piece. On the way you might bump into a washing machine crammed with dolls heads which you might think was a piece of conceptual art if you saw it at the documenta or the Venice biennial. But here it has another meaning, for one thing because it so closely resembles the city as a whole."

Alejandro Encinas Rodriguez, the long-serving president of the region around the capital, writes, among other things, that Mexico City's fleet of almost four million cars spews out 24 million litres of burned gas into the air every day.




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