The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

June 30 2000 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


The New Scientist predicts that in a few years our greatest fear won't be conventional explosives or nuclear weapons but the e-bomb, an electromagnetic device that has the power to cripple urban life. "The idea behind it is simple. Produce a high-power flash of radio waves or microwaves and it will fry any circuitry it hits. At lower powers, the effects are more subtle: it can throw electronic systems into chaos, often making them crash. In an age when electronics finds its way into just about everything bar food and bicycles, it is a sure way to cause mass disruption." This isn't the first occasion that a serious magazine has addressed the terrors of electromagnetism. Two years ago, Elaine Scarry, in a contentious article published in the New York Review of Books, suggested that electromagnetic interference from U.S. military planes and ships might have led to the destruction of TWA Flight 800. Jim Hall, then chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, engaged Scarry in a lengthy dialogue—click here and here to read the exchange. To read Culturebox's convincing dismissal of Scarry's thesis, click here. For the William R. Graham's statement to Congress on the threat of e-terrorism, click here.



The demise of NewsWatch, the financial  troubles at APBNews, the staff cutbacks at Salon,'s decision to jump a print version, and rumors that may do the same—these are just a few of the familiar examples deployed by those who are convinced that Internet journalism is about to die. They are, however, ignoring the more obvious point: that Internet journalism is thriving, though the best of the Web is now produced by newspapers, magazines, and journals—publications that depend on newsstand sales or subscriptions (as well as print advertising) for their financial survival. Jim Romenseko told the Los Angeles Times that Internet journalism must be free (click here to purchase the article for $2.50), but he didn't argue that all journalism should be available for nothing. Which might be another way saying that just because an Internet publication decides to put out a print version of its content doesn't mean the Web is dead. The New Yorker is one of several high-profile magazines that don't publish content on the Web, but contributors, such as Malcolm Gladwell, can present their work on their own Web pages. And it's not as if "traditional" magazines are guaranteed to thrive. Life was shut down by Time Inc. even though its paid circulation was more than a million. (For more on the death of Life, click here.) Yesterday, Condé Nast closed Women's Sports & Fitness after losing $45 million in three years. So, the next time you read about the imminent death of online journalism, take a look the links in the right hand column of this page for compelling evidence that the Internet is alive and well.

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THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL DESPAIR Conservative commentators, such as the New Criterion's Roger Kimball and David Frum and others, have taken to a sport that was once much enjoyed by the left—decade bashing. In the early 1960s, Norman Mailer described how ghastly and damaging the 1950s had been to all Americans. Today, conservatives despair at the '60s. In the introduction to his new book, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Kimball quotes approvingly from an essay by Paul Oskar Kristeller, "A Life of Learning": "We have witnessed what amounts to a cultural revolution, comparable to the one in China if not worse." The comparison is so obviously absurd that one wonders what Kimball (never mind Kristeller) could be thinking: that a decade of drugs and sex and rock 'n' roll (never mind civil rights) is comparable to a decade of gulags? Frum's How We Got Here is another study in cultural pessimism, though he suggests that the full impact of '60s mores wasn't felt until the 1970s. He writes: "This book is an attempt to … describe the most total social transformation that the United States has lived through since the coming of industrialism: a transformation (a revolution!) that has not ended yet." How ominous.


The Laura Spence case enters its sixth week. The chancellor of Oxford, Roy Jenkins, describes the Labor government's attack on the university as "ludicrous." He also says that politicians will no longer receive honorary degrees from Oxford. Meanwhile, if Blair and Brown had spent more time and money improving other British universities and less time blaming an elite institution for everything that's wrong with British society, then perhaps Laura Spence wouldn't have needed to go to Harvard.

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STILL FLYING July 11 is the 40th birthday of To Kill a Mockingbird. Click here to read a Los Angeles Times piece on the anniversary. For the publishing history of Harper Lee's novel, click here. The influence the novel has exerted—in the United States and abroad—is incalculable. It is, quite possibly, the only book that every Bobo has read, though you will find no reference to Lee's book in David Brooks' comic sociology, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How they Got There. Phoebe Adams of the Atlantic Monthly described the book in 1960 as good "hammock reading," a "continual bubble of incident."To Kill a Mockingbird is Lee's only book, though the author wrote a few articles in the early 1960s. The best of these is " When Children Discover America." "If more young people traveled with their eyes and minds open and saw this country," Lee writes, "they would have a deeper feeling about it. Adventuring across the country is out of style. Whatever happened to working after school in a grocery store to get enough money to hitchhike to California during your vacation?" Harper Lee is still alive and apparently divides her time between New York and Alabama.

Calista Flockhart

BYE, BYE, CALISTA Responding to government pressure and medical concern, the editors of Britain's top women's magazines will refrain from using excessively lithe models and actresses, such as Calista Flockhart, in their publications. A recent British Medical Association report said, "Broadcasters … and magazine publishers should adopt a more responsible editorial attitude towards the depiction of extremely thin women as role models, and should portray a more realistic range of body images." Liz Jones, editor of Marie Claire, said: "A lot of people came up to me … including fashion stylists and fashion editors, and they want to get together to do something." Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue (or Brogue, as it's affectionately known by American cousins), writes in her Telegraph column: "In this new world, it's goodbye perfect body, goodbye even to thinking about having one. You certainly aren't going to wake up in the morning wishing you hadn't had that second helping of spaghetti carbonara the night before." About 60,000 people suffer from eating disorders in Britain, while in America the number is closer to 5 million. To visit the American Anorexia Bulimia Association Web site, click here. Roughly 10 percent of people with eating disorders are men, though the editors of male magazines have yet to take action about the representation of their chaps—or their gals, for that matter. The number of male sufferers might actually be higher: A report in the New England Journal of Medicine says, "Men die several years earlier than women. They have more health-risk behaviors and see physicians less often than women. Yet there are few medical books about men's health, whereas those about women's health abound."


The Parallel History Project, a team of historians from Russia, the United States, and a number of European countries, has unearthed a 1963 Soviet plan to invade Western Europe. The idea was to reach the French city of Lyon in nine days. The Russians believed that the most ferocious part of the battle would take place in Czechoslovakia. NATO would try to "destroy the border troops of the Czechoslovak People's Army in border battles, and to destroy the main group of our troops in the Western and Central Czech Lands by building upon the initial attack." The Russian plan also included provisions for the use of "tactical" short-range nuclear missiles, similar to those stationed in Cuba in October 1962. On Nov. 15, 1963, the National Security Council released its top-secret report on a potential Russian invasion of Western Europe. To read the declassified document, visit the National Security Archive.


Thanks to the Internet, it's never been easier to spot trends in obituary-writing. Reflecting on coverage of the death of Syrian President Hafez Hassad, complains that obituary writing has become a staid art: "The toothless eulogies and conflicting messages that resulted couldn't fail to depress readers with this reflection: Major obituaries no longer report on the news or shape opinion, they reflect the tenor of their times and the timid culture of the newsroom." On the whole, though, Omnivore doesn't think there's much cause for complaint. New York Times obituaries are thorough and always take a special interest in the cause of death. The Daily Telegraph'sobituaries are both elegant and colorful: " Toni Kotch, who has died aged 73, was formerly the senior Dame at Eton. The position of Dame in a boys' house at the school is a demanding one. … A Dame … has to take charge of the domestic staff and have a head for figures. And, living as she does in the house, she has to provide a feminine corrective to an overwhelmingly masculine environment. Above all, however, she is required to take care of the boys' welfare, and to win their confidence. For this task Toni Kotch was admirably suited." For other obituary pages, see the links column at right. For two all-purpose obituary portals, click here and here.


Andrew Sullivan  blames Maxim, FHM, and "a certain kind of feminism" for bringing about the "crisis of the American male." (For Maxim's open letter to Sullivan, posted by MediaNews, click here.) Salon finds evidence of said crisis in MTV's bawdy spring-break shows: "It's almost like an orgiastic version of the 'Today' show … Instead of gathering around to say 'Happy Birthday, Mom,' kids pull down their pants or pull up their shirts to show their breasts." For George Will, there's something about There's Something About Mary and American Pie that's so horribly vulgar. Neither Sullivan nor Will has yet argued that the mores of Maxim or Mary are somehow responsible for the attacks on more than 50 women by a rampaging group of men during New York's Puerto Rican Day Parade. In any case, obnoxious rowdy males would hardly disappear if Maxim were to cease publishing. Moreover, ribald as Maxim may seem, it contains far more about the right and wrong way for a man to behave than you would think. If the Central Park attacks reveal a crisis, it's less cultural than institutional: It's indefensible for the police to ignore reports of crimes. (The NYPD say that in the absence of any 911 calls, how could they react—although as most of the attacks took place in Central Park, where there are few public telephones, that's not suprising.) Equally, it's indefensible for the NYPD to punish a handful of officers when it's obvious that commanders are responsible for a such a massive collective failing. If the police had reacted more manfully, then maybe the women could have been spared the assaults. Perhaps, in the interests of promoting greater valor and manhood, complimentary copies of Maxim ought to be given to the boys in blue. [Postscript: Slate's William Saletan comes across some encouraging signs in the aftermath of the rampage.]


Kausfiles chastises 60 Minutes for its story on the Iranian defector who blames Iran for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the broadcast, Leslie Stahl reported the defector's claim that he was the "czar of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, for more than a decade." But as a well-informed source told "Omnivore," the man is only in his 30s, so how could he have been head of Iran's overseas operations in 1987? What's more, the forensic evidence clearly leads to the two Libyans who are standing trial in the Netherlands. (In a new development, on June 20, the Swiss manufacturer of a sophisticated detonator used to bring down Pan Am 103 told the court that he supplied the Libyan secret service with 20 of these devices in 1985. For the complexities of the case as well as day-to-day coverage, click here.) The defector's story raises a more important question: Why isn't the media covering the trial? Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the Guardian, suggests that the court's officials have made it difficult for journalists to follow the proceedings. Why? "Prosecution lawyers are thought to be afraid that reporters might approach witnesses if they knew who they were." But just because it's an arduous story to report isn't an excuse for ignoring it. What's with the "czar" thing anyway? There's a perfectly good Iranian word for king, and it's "shah."

Photographs of: Calista Flockhart by Fred Prouser/Reuters.Illustrations by Nina Frenkel.