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14/12/2010

Magazine Roundup

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

The Nation | El Espectador | Outlook India | Eurozine | London Review of Books | Magyar Narancs | Salon.com | Polityka | The Economist | Lettre International | openDemocracy | La regle du jeu | The New Yorker | Salon.eu.sk | The New Statesman | The New York Times


The Nation 13.12.2010 (USA)

Ed Vulliamy recalls the case of whistleblower Martin Woods and the Wachovia Bank, adding that when whistleblowers are right, they are mostly discredited as unreliable: "In 2005 he joined Wachovia Bank as a money laundering reporting officer. Woods filed his first serious alerts during the 2006 Lebanon war, following up reports that Wachovia accounts were being used by Hezbollah. To his surprise, he was reprimanded for his attempts to freeze the suspect accounts. Later that year, he identified 'a number of suspicious transactions' relating to Mexican casas de cambio (currency exchanges). There were deposits of traveler's checks with sequential numbers for large amounts of money - more than any innocent person would need - with inadequate or no identity information on them, and what seemed to a trained eye to be dubious signatures." Woods issued a number of "supicious activity reports" and the bank responded promptly: "Woods, as he puts it, 'came under pressure from the business to change to develop a better understanding of Mexico.' He was told to stop asking questions and to cease blocking suspicious transactions."

In November 2009, Jeremy Scahill wrote a detailed report for The Nation about covert operations by US special commandos in Yemen and Pakistan. He now reads the Wikileaks cable with a certain satisfaction: "At the time, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell called the Nation story 'conspiratorial' and denied that US Special Operations forces were doing anything other than 'training' in Pakistan." But Scahill stays fair and cites a further cable: "'These deployments are highly politically sensitive. ... Should these developments and/or related matters receive any coverage in the Pakistani or US media, the Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance.' Such statements might help explain why Ambassador Richard Holbrooke lied when he said bluntly in July: "People think that the US has troops in Pakistan. Well, we don't.'"


El Espectador 11.12.2010 (Colombia)

"Wikileaks paradox". Hector Abad comments on the diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Bogota: "As far as Colombia is concerned, the gringo diplomacy looks pretty good. If you read the leaked cables, the US officials are obviously striving for more honorable and democratic things than their Colombian counterparts. Interestingly the North Americans genuinely seem to be making an impact on the observation of human rights, for example, or the problems of executions without trial, on attempts to intimidate politicians, the inappropriate use of the military, compromises in the fight against drug dealers and guerrilleros! The Colombian civil servants, though, have come off looking very poor by comparison, particularly ex-president Uribe and his subordinates. Even with Hugo Chavez, the gringos acted more sensibly. Uribe on the other hand, loudmouthed as Chavez himself, compares the Venezuelan leader with Hitler, whereas the Americans describe him as a quick-witted politician and a clever strategist. It is tempting to agree with the Iranian president when he says that the US was behind the release of the documents to make itself look good in the eyes of the world."

Outlook India 20.12.2010 (India)

The magazine features a number of articles on the Wikileaks cablegate, although there is no word of any dirty on India. Pakistanis, however, who as Mariana Baabar reports, are being hit hard by the Wikileaks tunsami, are furious about the hypocrisy of their leaders. General Kayani has come off particularly badly. His political machinations on the domestic front have been exposed, and: "WikiLeaks also brings to the fore Kayani's doublespeak on the country's vital security interests. Contrary to the military's repeated public disclaimers, the leaked cables show that Kayani allowed US drones to maintain bases in Pakistan and American special forces to operate secretly inside the tribal areas; that he was willing to permit the US to remove nuclear material from a nuclear research reactor, but only pulled back fearing a media backlash. Quite sacrilegiously, according to a Wikileaks cable, dated October 7, '09, the ISI boss, Gen Pasha, had been in direct touch with Israel on possible terror threats against Israeli targets in India. Says senior analyst Dr Shireen Mazari, 'What message are we conveying to the Palestinians as the army looks up to Anne Patterson as a glorified agony aunt for a solution to all their problems?'"

Eurozine 07.12.2010 (Austria in English)

Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens have written twelve theses on the "vindictive, politicized, conspiratorial, reckless" organisation that is Wikileaks, and the invaluable service it is doing for democracy. Thesis 7: "WikiLeaks raises the question as to what hackers have in common with secret services, since an elective affinity between the two is unmistakable. The love-hate relationship goes back to the very beginning of computing. One does not have to be a fan of German media theorist Friedrich Kittler or, for that matter, conspiracy theories, to acknowledge that the computer was born out of the military-industrial complex. From Alan Turing's deciphering of the Nazi Enigma code up to the role played by the first computers in the invention of the atomic bomb, from the cybernetics movement up to the Pentagon's involvement in the creation of the Internet – the articulation between computational information and the military-industrial complex is well established. Computer scientists and programmers have shaped the information revolution and the culture of openness; but at the same time they have also developed encryption ('crypto'), closing access to data for the non-initiated. What some see as 'citizen journalism' others call 'info war'."


London Review of Books 16.12.2010 (UK)

Newspapers and magazines in the USA and the UK are having a hard time of things. John Lancaster, who told the music industry to start something like iTunes before iTunes existed, rolls out the numbers which make for depressing reading despite signs of mild recovery. The attempt by Rupert Murdoch to paywall the Times is obviously not working. Will this be the death of the newspaper? Lancaster thinks so, certainly the end of the printed newspaper. But he sees a very different future for the online-only model. Under the heading "Let us pay" he lays out exactly what this would entail: "I feel equally certain in saying that what the print media need, more than anything else, is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever. For many people, this would be integrated into an RSS feed, to create what amounts to an individualised newspaper. I would be entirely happy to pay to subscribe to Anthony Lane on movies in the New Yorker, and Patricia Wells on restaurants in the Herald Tribune, and Larry Elliott on economics in the Guardian, and David Pogue on technology in the New York Times, and I also want to feel free to read anything else which catches my eye, whenever I feel like it – I just don’t want to have to think about paying every time I click on the article to read it. I want a monthly or yearly charge, taken off my credit card without my having to think about it.

Further articles: Together with Lewis Carroll and Jacques Derrida, Michael Wood goes through the new edition of James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" with its 9,000 or so amendments. Jeremy Harding sums up the new post-Wiki view of France. David Runciman reads the first book about the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Peter Campbell visits the James Turrell exhibition in the Gagosian gallery.


Magyar Narancs 02.12.2010 (Hungary)

The current issue of Magyar Narancs (like Elet es Irodalom has a blank front cover in protest against the media law reforms. The controversial draft law from the right-wing government of Viktor Orban is due to be passed in the Hungarian parliament on 20th December, and to go into effect at the start of next year. Magyar Narancs worries that it will endanger more than just press freedom. "This law will not only deprive journalists of their freedom, but everyone who lives in this country – even if many of them still do not or do not want to believe this freedom will not be removed accidentally, dilettantishly or through some misunderstanding, but intentionally and maliciously. And openly. Everyone who stands to be worn down slowly or taken out suddenly by this law – and once again, this is not just editors, journalists, bloggers, foreign and Hungarian media owners, but every autonomous cell in Hungarian society – has until 20 December to voice their outrage in protest. And their solidarity – even if these individual cells normally cannot stand one another. In the worse case, this will be a rehearsal for the fight for freedom."

Salon.com 12.12.2010 (USA)

In his book "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" (excerpt) the law professor Tim Wu (homepage) presents the history of the information industry – telephone, radio, film, TV and Internet – as a story which always leads from free systems to monopolies, Laura Miller writes in her enthusiastic review. The Internet, Wu fears, could be heading the same way: "While Wu strives for balance, acknowledging that monopolies can provide seamless service, efficiency, high-quality content and sometimes even lower prices, his heart is clearly with the wild and woolly (if also sometimes scruffy) nature of the wide-open model that currently abides online. ... Mammoth communications monopolies might be stable, Wu points out, and they do encourage the development of new ideas that stand a chance of enhancing their current business, as in corporate-sponsored hotbeds like Bell Labs. But they also reflexively shut down anything that threatens to usher in the 'creative destruction' of true innovation. A form of irrational 'paranoia' (Wu's term) caused Bell to stifle the invention of magnetic recording tape by one of its engineers in the 1930s - somehow they thought it would 'lead the public to abandon the telephone.'"


Polityka 10.12.2010 (Poland)

Adam Krzeminski explains (here in German) why Willy Brandt's genuflection before the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland does not carry quite the significance it does in the Federal Republic. "In Germany Brandt's gesture provoked consternation and outrage: a German chancellor never falls to his knees, and especially not in Warsaw. It went on to become the moral foundation of the Federal Republic. Not so in Poland. It undoubtedly made an impression on those present, but there very few of them and the people's press was most sparing in its publication of the image of the kneeling chancellor. On one hand, the government did not want an uncomfortable outbreak of sympathy for Brandt and the Germans, on the other, the journalists of the party press grumbled that Brandt had knelt before the wrong memorial. What about the Warsaw Nike?!" It also did little for Brandt's reputation in Poland that he did not insist on seeing Lech Walesa on his second visit in 1985.

The Economist 11.12.2010 (UK)

The UK's coffers are empty, and culture is feeling the squeeze. The new Minister for Culture Jeremy Hunt, the Economist reports, is looking to the USA for ideas, and wants to try to get the rich to open their wallets in sweeping philanthropic gestures: "Americans on average give GBP 37 a month each to cultural institutions; the British just GBP 6, on figures from Britain's Charities Aid Foundation and the Chronicle of Philanthropy in America. And the rich in Britain are meaner than the poor. Three-fifths of Britain's biggest donors—those giving more than GBP 100 a month—have incomes of less than GBP 26,000 a year. In America those who earn more than GBP 150,000 a year give eight times more than those in Britain. How to make the British more generous? Philanthropists should be rewarded publicly, with honours from the queen if need be, said Mr Hunt; when he took office in May, one of his first acts was to write personally to 200 donors, thanking them for their money and asking for their advice. And British institutions need to develop a culture of asking, he advised. Peer pressure as a way of encouraging people to give more would have to be stepped up. In case those present hadn't got the point, he ended with Winston Churchill: 'We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.'"


Lettre International 01.12.2010 (Germany)

Europe is becoming mestizo, declares French philosopher Sami Nair in his rather academic but no less fascinating essay. Nair does not reject the concept of cultural identity but he does oppose a purely positive idea of diversity, one that would not survive mestizofication: "The real challenge lies in overcoming the self, opening up to the shared conditio humana - a far cry from apologies of the right to difference which, as we know only too well, easily transform into an obligation to separate and have different rights. The example of religious totalitarianism that, together with violent fanaticism, indulges in a morbid cult of separation through belief, habitus, food, and divided space, is emblematic. Religious fundamentalism is in this sense a fascism of the soul."


openDemocracy 09.12.2010 (UK)

Ingo Petz conducts a fascinating interview with Belarussian writer Uladzimier Arlou (more here), who talks about the ever stronger Russification of his country and the difficulties of nation building under a dictatorship. This includes the harassment to which he is exposed as a writer. When the country goes to the polls on 19 December the autocrat Alexander Lukashenko will win again. Perhaps people will take to the streets as they did in 2006 but: "We must not forget that many people are really afraid. Afraid that if you take part in protests you will lose your job and be deprived of the wages and pensions that do at least get paid regularly, never mind how far behind European norms they are. Afraid that you will be thrown out of university (exactly what happened to hundreds of the young protesters in 2006). Afraid of ending up behind bars..."

The Russian journalist Oleg Kashin was badly beaten up a few weeks ago. All his fingers were broken and he is currently having his face reconstructed. He continues to write from his hospital bed. In OpenDemocracy, he voices his dismay at the softly-softly response taken by the authorities to the demonstration of nationalist football fans just days after Russia was awarded the 2019 World Cup. Two young artists suffered a very different fate: "Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov of the art group 'Voina' [more at The Guardian and rebelart], were arrested on charges of group hooliganism motivated by hatred for a social group (which carries a sentence of up to seven years) and are now in the pre-trial detention centre in St. Petersburg, having been driven there in a van with bags over their heads."


La regle du jeu 09.12.2010 (France)

France is embroiled in a conflict over whether or not to ban "Severe", a book published earlier in the year by Regis Jauffret, which deals with the spectacular shooting by his lover of French banker Edouard Stern. Now Stern's family wants the book banned and other writers, among them Frederic Beigbeder, Michel Houellebecq and Jonathan Littell have leapt to Jauffret's defence. In an open letter they write: "Since the murder, a number of supposedly documentary articles and books have been published, many of them very unflattering for the victim, yet until now, no one has seen fit to take the matter to court. This questionable privilege and the call for a ban has been reserved, strangely, for a work of fiction.... A ban will not undo the crime, it will commit another - against the intellect."

The critics were divided over the novel. But as Minh Tray Huy pointed out in Magazine litteraire back in March, Jauffret has illustrious forbears: "'Severe' is much less a product of the fait divers surrounding Stern than a continuation of a line of novels which are all based on real murder stories - from Flaubert and Stendhal to Truman Capote and Emmanuel Carrere."


The New Yorker 27.12.2010 (USA)

Nick Paumgarten portrays Shigeru Miyamoto, inventor, designer, producer and brains behind many a bestselling Nintendo game such as Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros and latterly Wii, which gets people leaping up and down in their living rooms. Paumgarten's article gives an insight into the world of games designers and shows that Miyamoto, true to his motto "As long as I can enjoy something, other people can enjoy it, too" has filled his games with autobiographical content: "Entertainment can put on airs; it might, over time, turn into something else, like art, literature, or a department at Brown. Novels, as we're often told, were once deemed frivolous, much in the way that video games are now. 'Video games are bad for you?' Miyamoto once said. 'That's what they said about rock and roll!' Certainly, video games have their highbrow evangelists and critical apologists, who may consider them to be cultural artifacts, coded texts, mythopoetic fictions, or political paradigms. In this respect, they may have more in common with opera than with hopscotch or cribbage."

There is also a short story "Escape from Spiderhead" by George Saunders and a review of three books about the rise of American patriotism: "As if an Enemy's Country", "American Insurgents, American Patriots" and "Defiance of the Patriots" as well as three new books on Mao and Maoism.


Salon.eu.sk 09.12.2010 (Slovakia in English)

The Belarussian essayist Andrey Dynko prepares for the next version of the autrocrat in Minsk, Lukashenko 4:0. First he want to be king of Greater Russia, then he blocked all form of democratisation and finally he became market friendly. His plans to introduce new reforms leave Dynko cold: "Lukashenko, a born populist, never fails to follow public opinion. In 1995, 70 percent of the population were in favour of reviving the USSR, but the figure is hardly 10 percent now: three times less than in Ukraine.'Daddy' Lukashenko is no longer a father of nations, nor a Stalin. He is the father of an independent nation. Lukashenko demands just one thing in exchange for economic freedom: don't touch my authority."

The New Statesman 10.12.2010 (UK)

Founding editor of OpenDemocracy Anthony Barnett compares the anti-tuition-fee riots in the UK with the student protests in 1960s Britain and asks whether they will also be quelled by the Right. "In October 1968, a then unknown Margaret Thatcher gave a speech at a fringe meeting of the Conservative party conference. She caught the anti-statism of the new zeitgeist, and it was the political right that eventually captured the legacy of Sixties anti-authoritarianism. [...] In contrast to the late Sixties, when student protest was ridiculed and pilloried, today it can make a credible claim to voice the anger and concerns of a wider public. And it is significant that the demonstrations have been joined by children protesting about the abolition of the Education Maintenance Assistance (EMA), which pays those from hard-up families to stay in school or further education. Another important difference between then and now is that the student militancy of 1968 in Britain was largely confined to universities and art schools. (...) Today 'students' connotes a much broader, less privileged sector."


The New York Times 12.12.2010 (USA)

Proof that magazines can survive online comes in the form of The Atlantic, a 153 year old publication with an excellent reputation that had been running at a loss for at least a year. This year things are looking very different. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Atlantic is back in profit: USD 1.8 million to be precise. Not bad for a little magazine, writes Jeremy W. Peters. How did this happen? "'In essence, we brainstormed the question, 'What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?', Peters cites the president of the Atlantic Media Company, Justin B. Smith. As a result of this thinking 'separations between the digital and print staffs in both business and editorial operations came down. The Web site's paywall was dismantled. A cadre of young writers began filling the newsroom's cubicles. Advertising salespeople were told it did not matter what percentage of their sales were digital and what percentage print; they just needed to hit one sales target.'" And the result? Atlantic's revenues this year were USD 32.2 million. "About half of that is advertising revenue. But digital advertising - projected to finish the year at USD 6.1 million - represents almost 40 percent of the company's overall advertising take. In the magazine business, which has resisted betting its future on digital revenue, that is a rate virtually unheard of."

After first Amazon banned Wikileaks from its servers, and then PayPal, Mastercard and Visa cancelled their cooperation with Wikileaks, Rebecca MacKinnon warned on CNN that the infrastructure of the net was controlled by private companies which in the end controlled our freedom of opinion. This question of course is also relevant to Facebook [and Twitter] as Miguel Helft explains. Because Facebook erased a page used by Wikileaks supporters to coordinate the hacker attacks on PayPal, Mastercard etc. But it is not simple: "Facebook rarely pleases everyone. Any piece of content - a photograph, video, page or even a message between two individuals - could offend somebody. Decisions by the company not to remove material related to Holocaust denial or pages critical of Islam and other religions, for example, have annoyed advocacy groups and prompted some foreign governments to temporarily block the site."

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