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23/06/2009

Magazine Roundup

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

The Economist | Outlook India | Le point | Salon.eu.sk | The New Yorker | The Guardian | Al Ahram Weekly | London Review of Books | Nepszabadsag | The Times Literary Supplement | Clarin | Gazeta Wyborcza | Commentary

The Economist 19.06.2009 (UK)

Under the headline "Twitter: 1, CNN: 0", the Economist concludes that the best news coverage from Iran has come from an unusual hybrid of old and new media. "Impressive were the desk-bound bloggers. Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic and Robert Mackey of the New York Times waded into a morass of information and pulled out the most useful bits. Their websites turned into a mish-mash of tweets, psephological studies, videos and links to newspaper and television reports. It was not pretty, and some of it turned out to be inaccurate. But it was by far the most comprehensive coverage available in English. The winner of the Iranian protests was neither old media nor new media, but a hybrid of the two."

The leading article sees only two options for the Iranian regime - and continuing as before is not one of them. It's time to crack down or back down.

A further article reveals that life for China's tens of millions of homosexuals has improved markedly, especially in big cities. "Gay and lesbian bars, clubs, support groups and websites abound. Chinese gays, who playfully call themselves 'comrades', have plenty of scope for networking. One surprising website caters specifically for gays in China's army and police force." Which is not to say that large-scale repressions are not still happening regularly.


Outlook India 29.06.2009 (India)

Australia has seen a rise in racist attacks on Indian students. Recently in May, two young Indians were brutally stabbed with screwdrivers, a third was struck down with a bottle and a fourth, badly beaten. Outlook India takes the opportunity to exercise some self-criticism."Aren't we racist, too?" the cover asks. Debarshi Dasgupta writes: "Ask any African what it is like for him or her to be in India and you might perhaps think twice before calling Australia racist. It is indeed a very dark underbelly that India reveals when it comes to its treatment of the dark foreigner. ... Bilyaminu Ibrahim, a Nigerian student at an engineering institute in Greater Noida, will tell you what it feels like to be spat on. Abdulmalik Ali Abdulmalik, another Nigerian student, will recount how much it hurts when one's beaten with cricket bats and wickets over a simple game. Across the country, landlords slam doors when they see a prospective African tenant but drool for money when a white walks in. Foreigners' Registration Offices cancel the visas of Africans arbitrarily and make paperwork easier for Americans and Europeans. Why, even in the film 'Fashion', Priyanka Chopra thinks she has hit rock-bottom because she finds herself sleeping with an African!"

African-American student Diepiriye Kuku, who lives in Delhi, recalls: "Once I stood gazing at the giraffes at the Lucknow Zoo only to turn and see 50-odd families gawking at me rather than the exhibit. Parents abruptly withdrew infants that inquisitively wandered towards me."

Sanjay Suri, Outlook correspondent in the UK, finds the Indians no less racist than the British. "Towards blacks especially. And from none more than the Indians who came to Britain from East Africa. Visiting Uganda, I was far from sorry to see Kampala Road in the heart of the capital reclaimed by local people, who became coolies to Indians the way the early Indian migrants came as coolies in Britain. Except that Britain made space for Indians to move on, and they did; the East African Indians wouldn't give black people space in their own land."


Le point 18.06.2009 (France)

"On the side of the Iranian people, now, more than ever" is the title to Bernard-Henri Levy's Bloc-notes on the elections and demonstrations in Tehran. He has serious doubts about Moussavi, who never distanced himself from Ahmedinejad's Holocaust denial, but he does want to support the Iranian civilian population. "In a nutshell: it's rebels against their betrayers. Bloggers and pranksters against the grey-haired guardians of the military Islamist apparatus. (...) We have a clear obligation. And it is something we have done before, with the USSR. After decades of cowardice we finally realised that totalitarianism only drew its power from our weakness. (...) Iran has its equivalent of the dissidents. They are, as we are learning now, endless in number and stronger than in Soviet times. They are the ones we have to support."


Salon.eu.sk 16.06.2009 (Slovakia)

Zygmunt Bauman continues his thoughts about the delayed effects of totalitarianism in Poland (first part here). He notes a key difference between National Socialism and Communism: the Nazi occupation left behind many wounds, but not the loss of self-respect that results from the years of mass-produced hypocrisy that characterised Stalinism. "The idea that the Soviet empire might implode and self-destruct had not occurred either to the domestic intelligentsia with its factual and sober reasoning nor to any of the highly respected and authoritative 'sovietological' institutes around the world, flush with funding and brains of the highest calibre; such a thought was not mooted even many years later, when the colossus's feet of clay began to visibly waste away. In these circumstances living a lie became a condition of survival more for those who lived the lie than for the regime that demanded their hypocrisy."


The New Yorker 21.06.2009 (USA)

In a letter from Tehran one inhabitant reports anonymously from the streets and rooftops. One reason he decided to lose himself among the crowds was to test out the official propaganda that Moussavi's supporters are counter-revolutionaries and their minions, "misguided students" and "pampered Westernized hedonists" from the wealthy neighbourhoods. "Contrary to the caricature, the demonstrators around me represented an impressive cross-section of Iranian society. The crowd in Azadi Street was dominated by young people, and many of the girls wore the regulation black maghna'eh, or hooded cloak, that they wear in class. There were also elderly men and women, and families whose dress and appearance suggested that they had come from modest precincts of Tehran or the provinces. I saw a friend who has a government job. She had left work early, along with ten of her colleagues, and with the permission of her supervisor. We passed a government office building where employees were leaning out the windows, waving. I don't think much work got done in Tehran on June 15th."

Further articles: Lauren Collins describes the music tastes of soldiers stationed in Iraq. James Wood reviews the novel "Censoring an Iranian Love Story" by Shahriar Mandanipour, a love story set against a background of moral constraints and tyranny. David Denby went to the cinema for Kathryn Bigelow's thriller "The Hurt Locker" and the documentary "Food Inc." by Robert Kenner, the film that opened the "Culinary Cinema" programme at this year's Berlinale. There is also a short story, "Ziggurat", by Stephen O'Connor and poems by Julie Bruck and Christian Wieman.


The Guardian 20.06.2009 (UK)

Actor and playwright Wallace Shawn wonders why he never grew out of his adolescent obsession for writing about sex, despite being "what people call '64 years old": "One reason is that sex is shocking. Yes, it's still shocking, after all these years - isn't that incredible? At least it's shocking to me. And I suppose I think it's shocking because, even after all these years, most bourgeois people, including me, still walk around with an image of themselves in their heads that doesn't include - well - that. I'm vaguely aware that while going about my daily round of behaviour I'm making use of various mammalian processes, such as breathing, digesting and getting from place to place by hobbling about on those odd legs we have. But the fact is that when I form a picture of myself, I see myself doing the sorts of things that humans do and only humans do - things like hailing a taxi, going to a restaurant, voting for a candidate in an election, or placing receipts in various piles and adding them up. If I'm unexpectedly reminded that my soul and body are capable of being totally swept up in a pursuit and an activity that pigs, flies, wolves, lions and tigers also engage in, my normal picture of myself is violently disrupted."


Al Ahram Weekly 18.06.2009 (Egypt)

Three weeks ago hundreds of Pakistani villagers in the Swat Valley chased heavily armed Taliban fighters from their villages and killed 14 of them. These villagers should be role models for Muslims round the world, declares Aijaz Zaka Syed, the opinion editor of the Dubai-based English-language paper, the Khaleej Times. "What we need is a global movement to present the true face of Islam before the world. (...) What Pakistani tribesmen did to take on the Taliban menace is perhaps the most cheerful news to come out of that country in many years. This Asian nation was supposed to have been a model Muslim society and state, but what has happened to Quaid-e-Azam's dream? It has emerged as a symbol of all that is wrong with Muslim societies today: corruption, abuse of power, violence and extremist chaos of all sorts. Of course, much of this could be blamed on the mess next door and constant interference and manipulation by big powers. But who gives them an opportunity to fish in troubled waters? In the end, every one of us is responsible for what happens in our part of the world. Besides, how long will Muslims continue to blame the rest of the world for their woes?"

Further articles: Abdel-Moneim Said, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, found the Arab reactions to Barack Obama's Cairo speech overly smug. After all, as regards the Israeli Palestinian conflict goes, Obama has not only "come at us" with words, he has set in motion processes that will steer the path back to negotiation. Unlike the Arabs who only have two divided factions to offer: "Over here, in our court, I imagine that the squabble over the ball, if there is one, will take place between those who prefer to wait until the problem solves itself and those who prefer to hand the whole problem over to Obama in the hope that he'll spare us all the trouble of coming up with solutions." And the postcolonialism lesson of the week comes from Hamid Dabashi, professor at Columbia University in New York, who claims that the two nations that feel most threatened by the Iranian demonstrations are the USA and Israel, because they fear nothing more than democracy itself! In the cultural section, Hani Mustafa watches three Egyptian films set among the poor and concludes that filmmakers today no longer have any connection with them any more.


London Review of Books 22.06.2009 (UK)

The "best book so far" on the financial crisis, enthuses Donald MacKenzie, is the volume of essays, "Fool's Gold" by Financial Times editor Gillian Tett. She is one of the few who warned about derivatives long before crisis struck. In her books she also explains what helped her to see so clearly. "The book begins in a conference room in Nice in spring 2005. Tett admits that at that point she was baffled by the technical language – 'Gaussian copula', 'attachment point', 'delta hedging' – used by the participants. However, before joining the FT she had conducted fieldwork in Soviet Tajikistan for a PhD in social anthropology, and the ethnographer in her was now reawakened. The conference reminded her of a Tajik wedding. Those attending it were forging social links and celebrating a tacit world-view – in this case, one in which 'it was perfectly valid to discuss money in abstract, mathematical, ultra-complex terms, without any reference to tangible human beings.'"

Further articles: Iain Sinclair assesses Peter Ackroyd's attempt to write London's history from the perspective of the Thames – describing it "against strong evidence to the contrary" (Sinclair) – as a holy river like the Ganges or the Jordan. Labour MP Chris Mullin, keeps a diary on the expenses scandal. Peter Campbell was not bowled over by the Futurism exhibition at London's Tate Modern.


Nepszabadsag 20.06.2009 (Hungary)

After the defacement of Budapest's Holocaust memorial, Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy, is mortified by the success of the extreme-right party "Jobbik" in the European elections. "I feel increasingly uncomfortable in this country which is my home. A year-and-a-half after the founding of the Hungarian Guard 427,213 adult citizens of child-bearing age believe it is right to send a representative of an openly and hysterically anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi political formation the into European Parliament. [...] As I write this, I am observing whether I am distraught or outraged. I am not. You can't walk around in a permanent state of outrage, any more than you can be permanently angry or frightened. Sometimes I am frightened, sometimes not, sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I am seized by icy horror. If 'Hungary belongs to the Hungarians', I don't want to be Hungarian. Whether I want this or not is completely irrelevant. But then this slogan is irrelevant. Hungary belongs to us all, as does ignominy."

The Times Literary Supplement 19.06.2009 (UK)

Having read two new books about Versailles, Tony Spawforth's "Biography of a Palace" and William Ritchey Newton's "Derriere la Facade", John Rogister imagines that most aristocrats would have been relieved to be chased out of this hoplessly backwards palace in 1789. The smell of it was obviously pestilential. "A brisk washing of hands and faces was often sufficient for most courtiers, and perfumes seldom counteracted the remaining body odours. A bath was a sex aid rather than an act of personal hygiene. Before the water closet became a royal privilege, the chaise percee was the norm. There were 274 of them in Louis XIV's time. The king and leading courtiers habitually gave audience while seated on theirs. The ambitious Parmesan diplomat Alberoni paid a compliment to the homosexual duc de Vendome as the latter rose from his chaise percee by exclaiming ecstatically 'O culo d'angelo', as the duke wiped his backside. The gist of Newton’s findings is that Versailles stank, as courtiers and their servants urinated in corners and on staircases. Drains were inadequate, refuse and dead animals were simply thrown out in the public way, and vidangeurs had the unenviable task of cleaning out stinking cesspools."

Richard Seaford, a classicist at Exeter, explains that the introduction of money was what made Ancient Greece blossom. "This new and revolutionary phenomenon of money itself underpinned and stimulated two great inventions in the Greek polis of the sixth century, philosophy and tragedy."


Clarin
19.06.2009 (Argentina)

Jose Manuel Lara Bosch the head of the Grupo Planeta, the Spanish-speaking world's most powerful publishing group, is dreaming of retirement. "When I finally get there, I will snap up one of the smaller and least-conformist publishing houses in our group and I will go back to being a small-time publisher, making decisions about covers, visiting the printers myself, breathing the smell of the ink. ... The start of my career was my most enjoyable time in publishing. I want to return to it, stop being a businessman and go back to being a simple publisher who distributes the books himself. But Internet piracy is a major problem – I understand that everyone wants to pay as little as possible for everything, just think of the cheap flights, hotels without personnel etc. But completely for free - that's out of the question! But this doesn't mean you should take action against private Internet users. No, you should fight the owners of the 40 websites which are responsible for 80 percent of piracy in Spain. These people are do good business – oddly enough thanks to advertising from telecommunications companies."


Gazeta Wyborcza 20.06.2009 (Poland)

Having gone to great lengths to get authorisation, the paper is finally able to print an interview with Poland's public enemy number one, Erika Steinbach, the president of the Federation for Expellees (BdV). She seems very composed. "I understand the concerns and anxieties of the Polish people very well. But they are unfounded." Yet she remains resolute: "Hitler opened Pandora's box with appalling inhumanity. But the responsibility for the expulsions at the end of the war lies with those in power at that time. The allies are largely to blame, but the responsibility also lies with the states from which the Germans were expelled." When asked whether she has been affected by the harshness of her Polish critics, she answers: "I can take it because I am not acting in my own interests, but on behalf of people who are often powerless. The criticism does not affect me too much because I know it is a result of Polish suffering. It is absurd, nevertheless."


Commentary 01.07.2009 (USA)

After the disaster of George W. Bush's politics of "encouraging Democracy", in Iraq for example, which had the endorsement the neo-con magazine Commentary, political scientist Joshua Muravchik asks why the Obama administration seems to be eschewing goals of human rights and democracy. "Obama could have faulted the Bush administration for its ineffectiveness in promoting democracy and promised that his own team would do it better. Indeed, Michael McFaul, who handled democracy issues in the Obama campaign, declared after the election that the new administration would 'talk less and do more' about democratization than Bush had done. But when McFaul was appointed to the National Security Council staff, he was given the Russia portfolio rather than the job of overseeing democracy promotion. The latter task, which had been entrusted to senior staff during the Bush years, was given to no one."

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