10/01/2006

Magazine Roundup

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

Clarin | The Guardian | Le Nouvel Observateur | Magyar Hirlap | L'Espresso | La Rivista dei Libri | Folio | Outlook India | The New Yorker | The Spectator | The New York Times Book Review


Clarin, 08.01.2006 (Argentina)

One year after the death of Yasser Arafat, the writer John Berger returned to the Palestinian Territories. In comparison with his travel report published in Le Monde Diplomatique in August 2003, eerily little seems to have changed. "The settlements are growing, new ones are going up. Two recently completed settlements – identical, compact, urban (the settlers travel to work in Israel each day), unreachable. Not so much village as giant army jeeps, big enough to carry two hundred armed settlers. Both were built illegally, both on hills, both with watch towers, slim as minarets. Their silent message to the surrounding area: 'Hands in the air, I said, put your hands in the air, and now back off slowly.' The deep trenches between what one would describe as political principles and the 'realpolitik' is possibly a historical constant. Often it is the accompanying explanations that are overblown and bombastic. Here the exact opposite applies: the words are far more harmless than the deeds."


The Guardian, 07.01.2006
(UK)

The British-Indian writer Pankaj Mishra breathes a sigh of relief that authors today are no longer able afford the lengthy hotel stays that used to constitue the essence of literary life. "Indeed, it remains hard to think of some writers - Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham - without thinking of room service and the cocktail hour. Their brittle cynicism about human nature could only have been manufactured in the anonymity and solitude of a hotel room. The posturing and emptiness of the later Hemingway may have something to do with his long stints at the bar of the Gritti Hotel in Venice. Nabokov's already well-developed ego seems to have expanded further in the isolation of his Swiss hotel, resulting in the unreadable 'Ada'. Certainly, Naipaul's futile struggles with the Kashmiri staff at his hotel in Srinagar contributed to the bleakness of Mr Stone."

In anticipation of Mozart's 250th birthday, Anthony Holden tells the chameleon tale of his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte whose career path led him from the roles of poet to Catholic priest, lady's man, colonial merchant, and finally American professor.


Le Nouvel Observateur, 05.01.2006 (France)

Ten years after the death of Francois Mitterrand, it seems the fascination of the French is unmitigated. The nation's magazines are filled with picturesque details of his private life and hymns to his historic greatness. A revealing insight at the state of the French soul is afforded by a little chat between Jacques Attali, an adviser to Mitterrand and one of his most brilliant courtiers, and former prime minister, Michel Rocard, one of the president's first victims. He looks back at 1985 and one of Mitterrand's most cynical master strokes, the introduction of proportional representation (which was rapidly abolished soon afterwards) to get the Front National into parliament and divide the Right. "The consequences were intolerable the way I saw it. The Left and Mitterrand opened the floodgates to the Front National and let loose the roar of a Right split in two. That was disgustingly calculating. I still stand by what I did. I still believe in this deed of honour which was to oppose his decision and resign."


Magyar Hirlap, 04.01.2006 (Hungary)

Columnist Julianna R. Szekely criticises the online game "Freedom Fighter", which the Hungarian Ministry of Education has set up for schoolchildren on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Uprising. "The goal is to stop children from spending their time shooting up virtual space as global Terminators, and start identifying with the Budapest youth who destroy virtual Soviet tanks with virtual Molotov cocktails.... In this way children will develop the type of relationship with the uprising that is already widespread among their parents: marked by vagueness, ignorance, a black and white way of seeing things and the resulting boredom. As we see, even our history during the dictatorship and the heroism of the Uprising against the Soviet empire can be reduced to a cliché."


L'Espresso, 12.01.2006 (Italy)

Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun would love to see Saddam Hussein stand trial before the Hague Tribunal. But the whole process is being left in Iraqi hands. "This trial should serve as an example for the whole world. It could be used to remind people that no one goes unpunished, that every crime that is uncovered can be prosecuted. There are a number of heads of state who are following this trial closely, and with certain misgivings, because they know that sooner or later they could be called to account themselves. Saddam's trial should not be a local issue, restricted to Iraq; far more it should mark the start of the moralisation of politics in the Arab world."


La Rivista dei Libri, 01.01.2006 (Italy)

With the publication of a number of books on the subject, Roberto Satolli picks to pieces the pharmaceutical-industrial complex and the health business, which focusses less on actual healing than on the discovery and maintenance of new diseases. Mega corporations like Pfizer (50 billion turnover) can no long be held in check, not only because of their vast size: "All the players in this game have the same interests: the doctors, who are out to increase their patient numbers and with that their incomes, their reputation and their influence; hospital management, who are after higher subsidies and a wider service palette; the manufacturers of diagnostic machines and tests; the makers of consumer supplies and prosthetics; and last but not least, the pharmaceutical companies, who are driving motor of this entire process."


Folio, 03.01.2006 (Switzerland)

A wonderful book! About statistics. Anja Jardine portrays the statistician Persi Diaconi, who teaches at Stanford and is an expert on the subject. Diaconi's career began at the tender age of 14, when he left home to tour the country with the famous close-up conjuror Dai Vernon. At 24 he decided that the mastery of loaded dice and cards was not possible without an in-depth knowledge of probability and he started attending an evening course in maths. "Two years later he fearlessly applied to Harvard and thanks to a letter of reference from a columnist at the Scientific American, he was accepted at the elite university. The columnist had listed two of Diaconi's own card tricks in the world's top ten. Three years down the line, Diaconi completed his doctorate in statistics and became a member of the statistics faculty at Stanford." There he discovered "how many rounds of the so-called riffle shuffle - the most common method of shuffling cards - are necessary to ensure the order of the cards is truly coincidental", which meant ploughing his way through non-communicative geometry.

In his column on aromas, Luca Turin suspects that in classical scent, like in the music of Mozart, one finds musical fifths. "I recently had a computerised tomography of my brain which showed no major irregularities but nonetheless, I have always been convinced that Mozart's lighter pieces are fruity and that fruit, especially fruit salads, have a particularly Mozartian smell. There's a plausible explanation for this: the frequencies of ester and lactones, the molecular structures that make up 90% of fruity smells, exist in proportions of almost perfect fifths."


Outlook India, 16.01.2006 (India)

Sandalwood Simhasana presents the small Indian town of Mysore, which has become a veritable Mecca for yoga fans from all over the world. Now it is floating atop "a second wave of Understanding-the-Orient for the West." This time, however, the focus is more often on the body than the spirit: "Three women from three continents are eating a snack made of beaten rice (poha) for breakfast. Finely chopped coriander is artfully strewn over it. If you think poha is just breakfast food for them, you're mistaken: it's symbolic of the very lightness of being. Each woman is also balancing a tender green coconut between her knees – a new substitute for mineral water. The weak morning sun casts a glow on their mildly perspiring skin – a glow of well-being, induced by yoga. And when Lara, Kyra and Cassandra speak, their lips round out automatically, as if every syllable is an 'Om'."


The New Yorker, 16.01.2006 (USA)

Commenting on the affair enshrouding American lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Hendrik Hertzberg wonders what has made this "the biggest congressional corruption scandal in generations" in the USA. Even if numerous commentators claim Abramoff "was an equal money dispenser" to the two major political parties, Hertzberg reckons the scandal "is as Republican as privatized Social Security." In line with a definition by political journalist Michael Kinsley according to which "the scandal is not what's illegal. The scandal is what's legal," the Abramoff affair "is not just a Republican scandal, and not just a 'bipartisan' one, either. It's simply the currently most visible excrescence of a truly national scandal: the fearful domination of private money over the public interest."

In a resume of the last year in cinema, Anthony Lane recalls John Carpenter's 1976 film "Assault on Precinct 13" which ends with the following exchange between a cop and a prisoner: "You're pretty fancy, Wilson." "I have moments." By these standards, Lane claims that 2005 in American cinema was completely uncool. What did he like? "As for complete films, the one that struck me most forcefullly was a German-Turkish production, 'Head On'" by Fatih Akin.


The Spectator, 09.01.2006 (UK)

Why are Americans – adults in particular – going less and less to the movies? Because Hollywood films are ever less realistic, believes James Bowman. Since "Jaws" and "Star Wars", films have tried less to imitate life and more other films. And the political correctness! As recently as 1994 in "True Lies", it was possible to portray Arab terrorists as villains. But no longer, since September 11. And "normal" people are completely out of style. Take, for example, Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball and their 18 children in "Yours, Mine and Ours." The remake of the film with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo "promotes Papa from a humble warrant officer in the navy to commandant of the coast guard — a man who tries to teach his brood teamwork as they crew his yacht, My Way. Meanwhile, Mama goes from being a navy nurse to being a designer of high-end handbags who is on the brink of her big breakthrough."

Paul Robinson finds Russia's behaviour in the conflict with Ukraine over gas prices abolutely justified from the standpoint of the market economy and environment. "Ukraine is not the world's sixth largest consumer of natural gas because its industry requires such enormous consumption, but because its subsidised prices make it indifferent to energy saving. Paying more for its energy might actually do it some good."


The New York Times Book Review, 07.01.2006 (USA)

Arthur Lubow has travelled to Leipzig for the New York Times Magazine to report on "the hottest thing on earth": the painters of the New Leipzig School. Lubow also meets Neo Rauch's gallerist Gerd Harry Lybke, who had initially wanted to be a cosmonaut, and then came into contact with art when he started posing naked for the Leipzig Art Academy: "Lybke's career as an art dealer began in 1983, when he opened in his (shared) apartment the only private gallery in Leipzig. He called it Eigen + Art, a pun that means both 'your own art' and 'weirdness.' Eigen + Art in those days was a lark, not a business (though things have changed - ed). 'I opened the gallery naked, saying, Welcome to the Galerie Eigen + Art,' Lybke recalls. 'I had real dreadlocks, from not washing my hair, and three bird eggs in the hair. After this opening, I met a few good-looking girls, and I said, Why not do this again?'" (See our feature "A sight for sore eyes" on the New Leipzig School)

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