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12/10/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

The New Yorker | Elet es Irodalom | Prospect | Telerama | The Economist | Eurozine | Newsweek | The Guardian | Magyar Narancs | The Times Literary Supplement | ResetDoc | The New York Times | openDemocracy | The New York Review of Books


The New Yorker 18.10.2010 (USA)

In an article entitled "Search and Destroy" Ben McGrath profiles British journalist Nick Denton, the mastermind behind the Gawker blog empire (450 million page views per month and approximately 17 million unique users). Denton describes himself as a gossip merchant: "Like all gossip merchants, Denton fancies himself a truth-teller who relishes flouting the conventions of good taste and privilege. He grew up in London, where the Fleet Street tabloid culture is cutthroat, and he shares the Murdochian view of American journalism as effete, earnest, and uncompetitive. 'The staples of old yellow journalism are the staples of the new yellow journalism: sex; crime; and, even better, sex crime,' he wrote in a memo to his staff. 'Remember how Pulitzer got his start.'" After Oxford Denton worked for the Daily Telegraph as a foreign correspondent in Romania and in Hungary for the Financial Times (his mother was Hungarian), but he soon tired of writing important articles that got no reaction. Online however, he can see exactly which article is being read and how often. And what does the future hold? "'Maybe this is like Craigslist, where billions of dollars of value is destroyed, and only a tiny fraction of that is actually captured by the new winners' Denton said, giving me what he called the 'pessimistic view' of new media. 'Or you could look at it like this is the early days of cable. You know, cable took a long time to get off the ground. But then, once you've got the franchise established, if you own MTV or the sci-fi channel, at some point it really starts to kick in.'"

Further articles: Adam Gopnic ponders the point of literary prizes. Sean Wilnetz scratches about for the intellectual roots of the conservative Tea Party movement and finds them in Cold War paranoia.

Jil Leport dips into the current batch of sex-ed books for children. David Denby went to the cinema to see Clint Eastwood's thriller "Hereafter" and Charles Ferguson's documentary "Inside Job" about the background to the global financial crisis. There is also a poem "Bliss Street" by Ange Mlinko.


Elet es Irodalom 11.10.2010 (Hungary)

In his assessment of the current situation in his country, Hungarian writer Peter Nadas declares the first phase of Hungary's attempt to modernise a failure. Which is not surprising because Hungary has never known democracy, and even in 1989 it was clear that the country would start to swing back and forth between the tradition of a benevolent state a la Kadar and the tradition of authoritarian power a la Horthy. Not that this is grounds for pessimism: "The best chance democracy has of bringing about modernisation is with a strong middle class. But the market economy can not only tolerate an authoritative power, but also a dictatorship. This is not particularly nice, but experience shows it to be the case. Only the anointed advocates of free trade truly believe that a market economy will eventually develop into a democracy. This is not what happens. If it is not created by democrats – and they have failed thus far – then there will be no democracy. Hungary certainly has its fair share of wealthy, and even plenty of well-off people, but it has no national bourgeoisie. It has never formed. But it is starting to form. Although the process is being hidden by spectacles."

The victims of the Hungarian chemical catastrophe were not and are still not getting enough information, writes commentator Janos Szeky – they have no idea how toxic the sludge really is or how best to protect themselves against it. The company that own the aluminium plant, the politicians, the state emergency management agency have failed them: "Those affected are now in the hands of trained psychologists who are no doubt doing their best, but they understand nothing about chemistry, or physics for that matter. The state secretary for environmental protection, who certainly doesn't know anything about chemistry or physics, or even communication, is talking about radioactive particles, whereupon the prime minister, that other great scientist and communicator, felt obliged to personally reassure the people that there was no such danger. [...] On top of this, the people in the disaster zone are being beleaguered by environmentalists, the followers of the one true belief who know very little else besides their obsessions. And finally the media, which also knows nothing about chemistry, physics, communication, environmental protection or politics, is gobbling up every bit of nonsense that comes its way – and slapping some more spin on it if possible, because who's interested in solutions or a calming explanations when you can sell horror?"

Civil society has not exactly shone either, according to Gusztav Megyesi, who compares the situation with Chile. "When 33 Chilean miners were trapped in the mine at the end of the summer, Leonardo Farkas, one of the country's richest men, opened a bank account for each miner and put 8,000 euro into it; his rivals will say for propaganda purposes. Can the reader imagine a Hungarian parvenu [...] or politician [...] who would do something that generous for the people here? The people in Kolontar and elsewhere would certainly not have a problem with it; at worse the Bolshevik press might condemn it as propaganda."


Prospect 07.10.2010 (UK)

In a lengthy article, David Edmonds leads us through the ethical quagmires of "trolleyology" and notions of acceptable killing. The "trolley" problems were posed decades ago by two grand dames of philosophy, the recently deceased Filippa Foot of Oxford University and her MIT colleague Judith Jarvis Thomson. Edmonds outlines the core problem: "In the so-called 'Spur', an out-of-control trolley - or train - is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch? In 'Fat Man', the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. (The Fat Man is now sometimes described as a large gentleman. But fat or large, the fact of his corpulence is essential.) If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people - but kill him. Do you push him? Study after study has shown that people will sacrifice the spur man but not the fat man. Yet in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. What, then, is the relevant ethical distinction between them? This question has spawned a thriving academic mini-industry, called trolleyology."


Telerama 07.10.2010 (France)

France is embroiled in its own Thilo Sarrazin debate (more here). It was triggered by a 300-page report "Le Deni des cultures" by sociologist Hugues Lagrange, which blames the poor education-levels and deliquence of African immigrant children from Mali, Senegal and Mauritania on family structures – the absolute authority of the father, the submissiveness of the mother and high sibling numbers. The marked contrast with the "host society" has driven many of these families into a downward spiral. In Telerama, Lagrange talks with historian Pap Ndiaye, author of the acclaimed "La Condition noire" (2008), who believes Lagrange's ideas are particularly dangerous because they are bringing the debate to a head at a time when race relations in France are already tense. Lagrange explains that he never intended to write a polemic book. "I began working on the book in 1998 and had no idea of the conditions of its reception. But I must say that very early on I realised than in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon countries, it is almost impossible to talk about culture or ethnicity in France." It is difficult to establish the background of pupils in France as statistics on the ethnicity of the population are banned: "The book was conceived as a response to this challenge and to the reluctance to collect information about the 'culture' of populations."

Ndiaye replies: "It is true that French social sciences make a huge fuss about the concept of culture, or more precisely the culture of different segments of the population. This is because for the past 25 years French scientists have tried to rid the idea of race of the differences ascribed to the characterists of ethnic groups by the old anthropology. It is time to start talking about the concept of culture, without pursuing so much 'culturalism'. Hugues Lagrange's book seems to reinstate the barriers between groups and even reinforce them!"


The Economist 07.10.2010 (UK)

The Economist delivers a very nuanced report on the state of the worldwide music industry. The picture that emerges is extremely uneven. Live concerts are raking in the cash, not least because concert goers seem to be willing to pay exorbitant sums. Opinions are divided over new services like Spotify: Are they helping to steer illegal-torrent fans back onto the straight and narrow – or simply driving down prices? As far as CD sales are concerned, the situation is by no means all bleak: "In a sense, the recorded-music market is not so much dying as greying. In 2002 people aged 12 to 19 accounted for 16.4 percent of all spending on albums in Britain, according to TNS Worldpanel. That was almost double the share of people aged 60 or over (8.8 percent).The two groups have now switched positions. ... The over-60s do not just spend more on music albums than teenagers. They spend more on pop-music albums. The consequences can be seen in the pop charts. America's bestselling album since 2000 is '1', a collection of Beatles hits from the 1960s. At one point last year four of the top ten albums in Britain were Beatles recordings and the number-one album was a collection of songs by Vera Lynn, who was then 92 years old. ... If most of your fans are middle-aged, CD sales are holding up well."


Eurozine 08.10.2010 (Austria in English)

Arguments are also raging in Romania about online "privacy" and "publicness". Eurozine translates a discussion between Constantin Vica und Cristian Ginea from Dilema veche. Ginea says that London's security cameras do make him feel more secure. Vica is more sceptical: "Every time you get on a bus or take the underground in Bucharest you are under double surveillance: by cameras and through your electronic ticket card. These two technologies together can reveal a lot more about you than you would like. ... Furthermore, we find nothing on their website about their confidentiality policy, despite the fact that they handle a good deal of personal data. I really don't trust them: they are hardly capable of providing transport, let alone handling data safely."


Newsweek 10.10.2010 (USA)

For young Chinese, America is but a rung on a ladder and Europe a retirement home, Rana Foroohar discovers in a conversation with students from Tsinghua University in Beijing. "I asked one physics genius in a fuzzy pink sweater what her plans were after graduation. She had already lined up a scholarship to pursue an M.B.A. at Stanford. After that, she said, 'I'll probably stay in the U.S. for a while and work at McKinsey or a venture-capital firm in Silicon Valley.' Then, she continued, 'I'll come back to China and start a company. After I make my money, I will retire and move to Europe, where I'll take my parents traveling.'"


The Guardian
09.10.2010 (UK)

Neal Ascherson was most impressed by fellow historian Timothy Snyder's book, "Bloodlands", which sets out to correct the way we remember the Nazi and Soviet killing of 14 million civilians between the years 1930 and 1945 - in an area that spans central Poland and, roughly, the Russian border, covering eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic republics. "Snyder insists that the colossal atrocities in his 'bloodlands' have to be set inside a single historical frame. To look at them separately – for instance, to see Hitler's crimes as 'so great as to stand outside history', or Stalin's as a monstrous device to achieve modernisation – is to let the two dictators 'define their own works for us'. This, too, is quaggy ground for historians. In the cold war and afterwards, claims that 'Stalin was worse than Hitler', or that 'communism and fascism come to the same thing', generated more heat than light. But Snyder doesn't fall into such holes. He is saying that both tyrants identified this luckless strip of Europe as the place where, above all, they must impose their will or see their gigantic visions falter."

Andrew O'Hagan delights in recounting stories from the life of Serge Diaghilev and in strollling through the lavish exhibition about him at London's V&A.


Magyar Narancs 11.10.2010 (Hungary)

For the local elections in Hungary on October 2, the far-right party Jobbik produced a campaign video portraying, among other things, the Roma as parasites. The journalist Zsofia Ivanyi compares it with the Nazi propaganda film "The Eternal Jew": "This campaign video is absolutely unacceptable. It it not only offensive to the people it sets out to vilify but also to its target audience. If we turn our backs and say, don't worry, we're not the firing line, it's just hot air, and the rats [from 'Eternal Jew'] are nothing but harmless mosquitoes here – then we've already set off on a journey in time: seventy years into the past."

The public TV and radio stations MTV and MR have refused to show the parasite campaign video of the far-right party Jobbick, on the grounds that it incites racial hatred. The case is now being settled by the Supreme Court in Hungary. The liberal weekly Magyar Narancs promises MTV and MR its full support even if they lose: "If it comes to this we, as friends of the constitutional state, will show our support for the disobedience of the two public broadcasters. Do not air the video! The Jobbik video does not just fan existential fears, it also uses hatred of the Roma to incite hatred in general. And it does so covertly, because the propaganda against bankers and multinationals is nothing but anti-Semitism in Jobbik subculture. And the 'political criminal' referred to in the film – not only stands for the corrupt politician but is a general indictment of democratic politicians. In the video, the democratic constitution is portrayed as a parasite sucking the blood of the nation." (Update: the Supreme Court has ruled that the stations should broadcast the video, which they have since done.)


The Times Literary Supplement 08.10.2010 (UK)

Stephen Fay had a ball with Kevin Telfer's history of the Allhakbarries, a star-studded cricket team put together by Peter Pan author. J.M. Barrie. The side included Arthur Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome, P.G. Wodehouse and A.A. Milne. "Most of them were hopeless cricketers. Barrie had to explain to Birrell which side of the bat he should use to hit the ball. Barrie himself claimed to be the slowest bowler ever in cricket. He said that after each delivery he would sit at mid-off and wait for it to reach the other end . . . which sometimes it did. Conan Doyle had form, however, having played in one first-class match - his boast that he had bowled W. G. Grace was not a fantasy. Wodehouse was a competent cricketer, as were some refugees from the Punch round table, such as the cartoonist Bernard Partridge. But they were not much interested in first-class cricket. In 1907, at the height of what cricket historians describe as a Golden Age, E. V. Lucas deplored the hard utilitarianism and commercialism."

Further articles: Author William Boyd read V.S. Naipaul's reportage collection "The Masques of Afrrica" whose misanthropy he deplored. "Perhaps that apparent cursoriness explains some of the more outlandish statements that Naipaul allows himself, as if he hadn't paused to weigh their import or consider their preposterous generalization: 'Africans eat everything that nature provides'. Or, 'It is hard to arrive at a human understanding of the pigmies, to see them as individuals. Perhaps they weren't'."


ResetDoc 28.10.2010 (Italy)

What's going on in Iraq? For Harith Alqarawee, the country is in the grips of a serious identity crisis in which conflicting sectarian narratives are used to justify extreme violence. Only if the country comes comes to terms with its past can there be any hope of a stable future: "I would suggest that Iraqi society needs to reflect on the conflict, and accept some responsibility not only for having silently witnessed the victimization of considerable sectors of the population through repressive policies, but also for allowing such a cruel regime to persist for decades. So far, it is not evident that such a reflection has occurred."

Ornella Sangiovanni a journalist and founder of the news website Osservatorio Iraq points to issue of the Kurds who are determined to hold on to the control of oil resources. And the political scientist Bessma Momani tells Ernesto Pagano that Iraqis " have greater political freedom, but the rest of their lives has totally deteriorated. There is far less personal freedom. You can express your opinion, but then you are unable to freely go out without placing your personal security at risk."


The New York Times 10.10.2010 (USA)

Leah Hager Cohen, herself a writer, was converted from Saula to Paula while reading Philip Roth's new novel "Nemesis" (excerpt). Roth has abandoned his usual cynicism to tell a moving story of a Jewish sports teacher around the time of WWII, whose poor eyesight prevents him from doing military service and whose personal Omaha Beach is fought against polio. What most takes her breath away is the sophisticated narration which was "evocative of a Greek chorus, at once communal and all-knowing. More than a hundred pages go by before we discover who is telling the story. And even then, until very near the end, I persisted in believing that the narrator was somehow omniscient, speaking perhaps from beyond the grave, as in another of Roth’s recent novels, 'Indignation.' There and here, one feels him exploring what role memory and narrative might play in salvaging meaning from a life"

Further articles in the Book Review: Steven Heller reviews a monumental edition of six of Lynd Ward's woodcut novels, edited by Art Spiegelman.


openDemocracy 06.10.2010 (UK)

In OpenDemocracy the religious philosopher Remi Brague and the conservative commentator Jerome di Constanzo discuss secularisation – from rather a pro-Church perspective. Indeed they give the Church all the credit for coming up with the idea. "The dividing line drawn between the Church and the State is a Christian invention that began among the Church Fathers, as a reaction against Constantine's claim to control the Church and further culminated in medieval times. Moreover, this line was drawn by the Church, not by the State. The Holy See's constant policy from the Investiture Controversy in the late 11th century consisted in sending the State (i.e. the Emperor or the Kings) back to its own merely thisworldly - 'secular' if you want - task: enforcing peace, justice, good social order. The State, on the other hand, was not 'secular', but claimed its share in sacrality. Just think of the adjective: 'Holy Roman Empire'. Secularity was a conquest of the Church.


The New York Review of Books 28.10.2010 (USA)

Dancer and journalist Alma Guillermoprieto tells the tragic tale of Mexico's descent into violence. Having read a number of new publications on the subject, she arrives at the conclusion that President Calderon is not losing the war against drugs, so much as not fighting it. Recently the government sacked 3,2000 policemen who were on the pay list of the drug clans. Guillermoprieto also describes a massacre in which the Zetas stopped and gunned down 72 migrants on the road to the USA "out of rage, on whim, or simply out of tedium or habit": "The second noteworthy thing is the Mexican government’s response to the tragedy. According to the first reports published in the newspaper El Universal, troops at an army outpost some fourteen miles from the ranch were notified of the massacre by a survivor, but they did not immediately go to the scene of the crime because, the story in El Universal said, they were afraid of being attacked. The first troops arrived at the scene only the day after the lone survivor alerted them to the massacre. This from a military that has been ordered by its commander-in-chief to wage all-out war on the drug trade.

Robert Darnton refuses to abandon his dream of a national digital library, free from Google's clutches. All it would need is a copyright which takes into a account the idea that "behind the creation of the American republic was another republic, which made the Constitution thinkable. This was the Republic of Letters - an information system powered by the pen and the printing press, a realm of knowledge open to anyone who could read and write, a community of writers and readers without boundaries, police, or inequality of any kind, except that of talent." . N.B. Jefferson wanted to have the copyright on ideas limited to 19 years after publication (more about this from Lewis Hyde).

Further articles: J.M. Coetzee reviews Philip Roth's new novel "Nemesis", spoiling the plot and concluding rather ungraciously: "Nowhere does one feel that the creative flame is burning at white heat, or the author being stretched by his material." Christopher de Bellaigue sounds out the situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban have had a number of recent successes . And Tim Flannery reads a story about a mass penguin rescue action in South Africa.

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