The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

June 16 2000 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

WHAT'S WITH THE "CZAR" THING?

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. (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."

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CALLING OUT AROUND THE WORLD

Alistair Cooke's " Letter From America" is heard by 34 million people every week. (For the latest "Letter," click here.) Not bad for a man who is in his 90s and has broadcast continuously for more than 50 years. True, he may be better known beyond these shores, but thanks to the BBC's World Service, Cooke is heard around the globe. You could argue that he's has been more influential in shaping the world's views of America than any other journalist. For some, he's too enthusiastically pro-American. When Cooke became a U.S. citizen in the early 1950s, spy and defector Donald Maclean said: "How can you call me a traitor? What about Alistair Cooke?" To pre-order Nick Clarke's forthcoming biography, click here. To buy Cooke's Memories of the Great & the Good, click here

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THE TREE OF CRACOW AND YOU

Robert Darnton, writing in the New York Review of Books, suggests that the origins of the Internet can be found in 18th-century Paris: "To find out what was really going on, you went to the Tree of Cracow. It was a large, leafy chestnut tree, which stood at the heart of Paris in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. … Like a mighty magnet, the tree attracted nouvellistes de bouche, or newsmongers, who spread information about current events by word of mouth." The point, of course, is that the information was free. Jim Romenesko tells the Los Angeles Times that "people have only so much time and the Web audience wants information free, with no excuses"—bad news for Web sites like Inside.com, which plans to charge heavily for its content. Inside.com editor Kurt Andersen disagrees. Readers will pay for an Internet publication as long as it has good information and a strong local audience, he says: "The brilliance of Yahoo—and why it's worth four times as much as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and Newsweek and all their respective TV stations and smaller newspapers combined—is that it uniquely embodies both free-media models: it's national and it's local, it's cheap to produce and it gives its audience real depth." The New York Observer's Gabriel Snyder asks what will happen when the Internet becomes … television.

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FREUD IN TRANSITION The new Penguin edition of Sigmund Freud's complete works will be edited by Adam Phillips, the author of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored and other collections of aphoristic essays on psychoanalysis. The contrarian Phillips can be counted on to stir things up in Freud circles: "Psychoanalysis has become a very dreary profession indeed," Phillips tells the New York Times. "It is terribly puritanical, moralistic and coercive. The institutionalization of analysis has killed its wilder spirit. The craving for academic respectability has made analysts want to be recognized either as real scientists or real artists. … I don't care whether psychoanalysis survives or not—it's not a religion which we need to sustain." In his recently published Darwin's Worms, Phillips argues that Darwin and Freud require us to reconsider our conception of death. (Click here to read Frank Kermode's review in the London Review of Books.) "It is possible to have a more realistic sense of our mortality. It has only just dawned on us that there is no God, no afterlife, yet we continue to live as if there is one, or might be," Phillips told the British Psychoanalytic Society in a recent interview. (For a sample of Phillips' idiosyncratic style, click here.)

THIS JUST IN: OXFORD IS ELITIST

Britain's great Laura Spence debate moves into its third week. Translation: Laura Spence, a star pupil from a British state school, was denied a place at Oxford University but won a scholarship from Harvard. This prompted Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, to attack Oxford for admitting students on the basis of an "old-boy network." Oxford's vice chancellor replied: "[I am] dismayed that claims of this kind are made without knowledge of the real facts behind the headlines." Alan Ryan, the warden at Oxford's New College, argued that Spence's rejection had nothing to do with her having come from a state school.

Richard Riley, the U.S. secretary of education, implicitly criticized the Blair government by defending Oxford and Cambridge against charges of classism. Ironically, the professor who rejected Spence turns out to be a champion of state school education. Maureen Freely, who interviews potential British students on Havard's behalf, argues that Harvard is actually more elitist than Oxford, because the children of alumni get preference. Meanwhile, a report on higher education in Britain calls for the introduction of American-style SATs. Alan Ryan attacks the SAT and the Educational Testing Service in his review of Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. Writing in the New Statesman, R.W. Johnson, once a tutor at Magdalen, recalls a former college head. It was Sir Herbert Warren's "habit to greet every incoming freshman: when the Imperial Prince of Japan arrived, Warren asked him what his name, Prince Chichibou, actually meant. 'The Son of God,' the young scion replied.'Of course,' replied Warren. 'You'll find we have the sons of many famous men here at Magdalen.' Most of us were keen to put the Warren days as far as possible behind us."

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MR. MORRIS

Film director Errol Morris says that he likes "the idea of making films about ostensibly nothing. That's what all my movies are about. That and the idea that we're in a position of certainty, truth, infallible knowledge, when actually we're just a bunch of apes running around." His latest film, Mr. Death, is about execution technician and Holocaust denier Fred Leuchter. Ron Rosenbaum calls the movie "a brilliant, provocative meditation on the nature of evil, the nature of innocence and the nature of truth," though Slate's David Edelstein charges that Morris' "beautiful detachment suggests a form of cowardice." (To buy the recently released video and other Morris movies, click here.) Click here (Shockwave player required) to read more on Morris' series of televised interviews, "First Person," and here to read Time's rave review. In an interview with Salon, Morris says of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns: "I'd like to grind an ax against his head."

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HACKING'S WARS Ian Hacking is "the most intellectually curious and imaginative philosopher of science now writing," according to Richard Rorty. His latest book, The Social Construction of What?, rebukes those theorists who believe that reality is socially constructed. For Hacking's views on Imre Lakatos—his "contribution to the philosophy of mathematics was definitive"—and Paul Feyerabend, click here, and for essays on psychology, fairness, and other aspects of science, click here. Hacking's Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses, is a study of " a psychiatric epidemic of 'hysterical fugues'—cases of people who suddenly left home, suffered from amnesia, and took on a new identity," people who didn't just suffer from normal escapist desires but who traveled madly. In the New York Review of Books, Hacking writes about the animal rights movement.

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BRIDGING IT

Norman Foster rebuilt the Reichstag in Berlin and has been commissioned to design the new Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He's also built banks, airports, and many other remarkable buildings around the globe. His Millennium Bridge—the first new London bridge in 100 years—opens June 10. For a live view, click here. Also, to read about a British bridge-building craze, click here.

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THE READING ON THE WALL

A report commissioned by the Authors Guild (Adobe Acrobat required to download it) says that publishers are putting out too many serious books, not too few, but marketing most of them poorly. Slate's Chatterbox says that while this may be bad news for authors, it's great for readers. Random House's Jason Epstein believes that the Internet can save literature. To read Newsweek's roundtable on the future of publishing, click here. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that independent booksellers are planning to strike back at Amazon.com and the superchains with a Web site, Booksense.com, and that Brill's Content founder Steven Brill intends to follow with Contentville.com, which will join with several small booksellers to market books, magazine articles, and other editorial matter. For more adventures in the book trade, read Inside.com, Publishers Weekly, and Publishers Lunch.

FOR DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE

American evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald was one of two witnesses British historian David Irving called in his unsuccessful libel case against Deborah E. Lipstadt, who had written that Irving was a Holocaust denier—for more on Lipstadt and Irving, click here. Now MacDonald has been asked to make a public defense of his views on Judaism. (In January, Slate's "Culturebox" said MacDonald is an anti-Semite.) Meanwhile, Irving, who must pay Lipstadt's and her publisher's legal expenses (estimated at $2 million), is in California on a fund-raising trip.

Photographs of: Sir Norman Foster by Russell Boyce/Reuters.

Illustrations by Nina Frenkel.