Edge.org, 30.05.2006 (USA)
The best essays about the disconcerting media revolution known as the Internet continue to come from the USA. A fortnight ago in the New York Times Magazine, Kevin Kelly (more here) set out his euphoric vision of the Internet-based collective and the universal book. Almost immediately, although without direct reference to Kelly, Jaron Lanier (more here) penned an acerbic counter argument, criticising the collective spirit kindled by projects such as Wikipedia which believes a collective intelligence will aggregate by itself on the net without responsible authors. Lanier talks of a "new online collectivism" and the "resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise". "This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous." Lanier does not believe in erasing authorship: "The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots."
Lanier's essay provoked many people to enter into the debate at edge.org, Kevin Kelly among them.
Peter Oborne reports from Darfur: "When we visited the scene of the battle we found that bodies had beenshoved hastily into mass graves. An arm stuck out from under one bush, and the flesh had been eaten by wild animals. A human foot obtruded from another grave. Dried pools of blood stained the ground. The stench of human putrefaction was heavy in the air. Bits and pieces of clothing, spent bullets and theprotective amulets used by African fighters lay scattered on the ground. One body still lay exposed. The dead man had evidently climbed a tree to escape his attackers, but been shot down from his hiding place."
Il Foglio, 10.06.2006 (Italy)
The Golf GTI was, sociologically speaking at least, the forerunner of the now controversial SUV, writesMaurizio Crippa, and also the perfect symbol of the 80s. "If cars have a spirit, then it is certainly an evil one, demonic. The enemy is inside them, a man like in Stephen King's 'Christine' of 1983. Christine might have been a Plymouth Fury of 1958, but its cursed spirit uncovered the ghastly depths of the GT decade and all the souped-up, turbo-boosted and drilled-out engines. That all came to an end in 1989, famously the year of salvation. The Golf, in particular the GTI, the black one - and we are not talking about the one with rabbit's foot in the back – was aggressive, demanding, loud."
After substantial renovation, the legendary New York coffee house, one of the most important literary coffee houses of the Danube monarchy has reopened. The writer Ivan Bächer recollects:"Once upon a time, not only the coffee house but the whole palace, even every room, every corner every nook and cranny of the the entire block of the surrounding houses was full of journalists, writers, publishing houses and editorial offices." The new Italian owners have redeveloped the literary spirit to death, Bächer states disappointedly: "On the wall is a box of reinforced glass in which a dozen beautiful old books are hermetically sealed. A book safe. At the opening celebrations in 1895 the playwright Ferenc Molnar threw the keys to the coffee house into the Danube so that the splendid institution could never be closed again. After the reopening, perhaps someone should take the precaution of throwing the keys to the reinforced glass box into the Danube to prevent anyone from entertaining the idea of ever opening a book in these rooms. (Here and here photos of the coffee house in its heyday, Here, here and here after the renovation.)
DU magazine focusses on Germany for the World Cup and has its correspondents report from every corner of the Bundesrepublik. As usual only a very small selection is available online, but Albrecht Tübke's photographic portraits which accompany the pieces of writing can be viewed here.
The lengthy discursive essays are less illuminating than the small atmospheric pieces such as the one by Svenja Leibe on the village where she grew up. "Drive off the motorway, on and on through the scattered settlements, none of which you will find surprising. Drive through them, but do not hope to see anything through the panorama windows of the bungalows, drive on down the curvy streets, past the pig farms, past the silver bunting of the car show rooms. Follow the neon coloured invitations to 'foam parties and barn raves'. Look out for people, you won't see many of them. Don't think the red lantern in front of the family house is a forgotten Christmas decoration. Drive. Drive down the pretty hill, on past the hidden building sites in the garden of the old pheasantry, down to the 'tank resistant' bridge that stoutly spans a tiny stream. The road runs directly into the heart of the village and to a little house behind a metre-long curve sign where it turns very sharply to the left. Don't look out of the window with too much interest here, you will only make them suspicious. There is nothing to buy any more. Leave them in peace. Let them file away at their gardens, take that seriously."
Inspired by Isaac Asimov's futuristic vision "I, Robot", The Economist asks in itsTechnology Quarterly how secure our future will be among robots. Do Asimov's three lawsfor the protection of humans hold today? "Regulating the behaviour of robots is going to become more difficult in the future, since they will increasingly have self-learning mechanisms built into them, says Gianmarco Veruggio, a roboticist at the Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation in Genoa, Italy. As a result, their behaviour will become impossible to predict fully, he says, since they will not be behaving in predefined ways but will learn new behaviour as they go."
Other articles dealing with new fuel cells, artificial neural networks in car motors and the victory march of Bluetooth (wireless personal area networks) are unfortunately not online. Not in the magazine but also topical here is Robocup, the world robot football championships taking place this week in Bremen.
Does globalisation make Karl Marx a "pioneer of modern thinking"? The question is tossed around in this issue by two indiviuals who are convinced the answer is yes: English historianEric Hobsbawm and Jacques Attali, economist and former advisor to Francois Mitterand, whose book "Karl Marx ou l'esprit du monde" was published last year. Hobsbawm finds a renewed interest in Marx entirely natural: "Today we are seeing the globalised economy thatMarx anticipated. Still, he didn't foresee all of its repercussions. For example, the Marxist prophesy whereby an increasingly numerous proletariat topples capitalism in the industrial countries did not come about." Attali comments: "The Socialist International was a remarkable attempt on Marx's part to think the world in its entirety. Marx is an extraordinarily modern thinker, because rather than sketching the outlines of a socialist state, his writings describe the capitalism of the future."
Daniel Binswanger portrays Segolene Royal, the promising presidential candidate whose conservative views are pushing French socialists into an identity crisis. "Re-education camps for criminal youths controlled by the army, state paternalism of parents with authority problems, cutbacks in funding for people with delinquent children: for the last week people in France have been discussing a whole catalogue of measures aimed at coming to grips with youth violence in the banlieues. But for once the debate has not been set off by the hyperactive Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy. The French are rubbing their eyes in disbelief: as if in a political mirage, the discourse on law-and-order has changed camps."
What's become of lunch? A sandwich gulped down while you're walking. Folio presents this rule and exceptions to it.
Stephan Israel visits Michel Addons, cook for the Italian EU Commission: "Today there's lobster tails on spring rolls with ginger and oyster sauce. For the main course there's veal sweetbreads with new potatoes and green asparagus from Provence. For desert there's strawberries on creme brulee. Today is the yearly visit of the much-feared auditors from Luxembourg."
Italian author Andrea Camilleri commiserates with those who have to swallow down a hamburger on the street, reminiscing about how his grandmother used to cook at noon. "As primo there was mostly pasta, as a gratin or with meat sauce, sometimes there was also melanzane alla parmigiana. As secondo there was poultry, lamb or fish, then cheese and sausages. Of course a lunch like that took its time. No one went back to work before four in the afternoon."
Bernard-Henri Levy is up in arms that no one in France has said a word about Simone de Beauvoir, who died 20 years ago. In his "notebook" column, he pays homage to seven women, all of whom are "proof of the timelessness of de Beauvoir's tremendous work": Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, French politician Segolene Royal, women's rights activist Fadela Amara, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and – German chancellor Angela Merkel. Levy writes: "Angela Merkel, 'that woman' as Gerhard Schröder, Putinist and world record holder in matters of corruption under a democracy, called her; that 'girl' who peeved him no end at the time of his election defeat... She, the specialist in quantum physics (elementary particles are not Michel Houellebecq's terrain, but hers), enjoys a popularity that has her predecessor, and all of Europe's heads of government, green with envy. And on top of that she's rehabilitating the finances of an economy that thanks to her is once more becoming what it always has been and should definitely be once more: the moving force in the European equation."
Five years after the American victory over the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid sees Afghanistan once more on the verge of collapse: "A revived Taliban movement has made a third of the country ungovernable. Together with al-Qaeda, Taliban leaders are trying to carve out new bases on the Afghanistan–Pakistan border. They are aided by Afghanistan's resurgent opium industry, which has contributed to widespread corruption and lawlessness, particularly in the south. The country's huge crop of poppies is processed into opium and refined into heroin for export, now accounting for close to 90 percent of the global market."
Further articles: Alan Ryan presents three books in which renowned philosophers – Kwame Anthony Appiah, Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum – address concepts of cultural diversity andcosmopolitanism. Freeman J. Dyson reviews Daniel C. Dennet's philosophical treatise on religion,"Breaking the Spell", in which Dennett pinpoints the real problem as "belief in belief": "He finds evidence that large numbers of people who identify themselves as religious believers do not in fact believe the doctrines of their religions but only believe in belief as a desirable goal."