The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

July 14 2000 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

THE NEWS FROM ICELAND
Auden and MacNeice, Fischer and Spassky, Reagan and Gorbachev—what is it about Iceland and couples? Rather more, it seems, than just the poets, chess players, and politicians who have visited the volcanic island in the middle of the North Atlantic to thrash things out. The population is currently part of a vast genetic experiment. Since the 240,000 Icelanders can track their ancestry back for more than 1,000 years,  they are, the New Scientist says, "uniquely placed for tracing inherited diseases." In an interview with the magazine, Kari Stefansson, the leader of the experiment and "the bad boy of genetics," explains the importance of his work and defends himself from critics who say that he is a profiteer.

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MORE GENE POOL NEWS
Do you want to forge a union with blue blood? The Tatler, founded in 1709 with the intention of publishing " accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment," now lists all the available British aristocrats on a special Web page, tatlerlittleblackbook.com. Plenty of Jemimas and Henrys to be snapped up, but don't delay. Also in the latest issue, Sally Ann Lesson has some useful advice on how to avoid cads. "Cads aren't quite gentlemen, which is what makes them so thrilling. They almost are, but they're a bit too smooth, a bit too polished. … Cads know lots of things that are bad for them, like the phone numbers of tabloid newspapers. They also like lots of things that are bad for them, and most of those things they can't afford." (To read her article, click "Features" on Tatler's home page.)

CRAFT WORK
Robert Craft, a conductor and arguably one of the best music critics alive, tells the Daily Telegraph about how he first met Stravinsky and the 20 years he subsequently spent with the composer. "English was a new language for him then. As he finished each page of The Rake's Progress he would give it to me, and I would check it for errors. He was always asking me for advice on how to stress the words. 'Di-la-to-ri-ness.' I remember him having trouble with that one." To find out more about Robert Craft, visit his home page. For his biography, click here. In an article published in the New York Review of Books last year, he writes about Stravinsky and Balanchine—Craft was the only person to "witness … the creation of two masterpieces, Agon and The Flood."

CNN IS MUGGED BY THE "MUGGLES" AFFAIR
Poor CNN. Not only are the ratings of the cable news service tanking, but it was also mugged by the preposterous Nancy Stouffer, who claims that J.K. Rowling stole the term "muggle" from a novel she wrote in the 1980s. (In the Potter books, a muggle is a human, not a wizard.) On July 5, Greta Van Susteren, host of Burden of Proof, interviewed Stouffer and asked the writer how she came up with the word. "I derived the term from my son, who used to come up and pinch my cheek and tell me that he wanted to kiss me on my muggy, and that's where I came up with the term, and I started calling him a muggle." Van S.: "Do you know of any other use of the term muggles? Have you ever come across that term?" Stouffer: "Yes, I have. I have defended these same trademarks twice before, once in 1987, successfully in federal court, and once in 1992 against Stephen Bochco, who was using the term 'muggle' for Capital Critters."
Just how an author can claim to have copyrighted "muggle" is especially ludicrous because Lewis Carroll came up with word over a hundred years ago, in a three-chapter story called "Wilhelm von Schmitz." Thanks to the wonders of Bibliomania.com, you can read the story here. The relevant passage goes like this: " 'He's confessed to it, constable? you heard him?' said the first speaker (who rejoiced in the euphonious title of Muggle …) 'it's as much as his life is worth.'
'I say, stow that—' warmly responded the other; 'seems to me the gen'leman was a spouting potry.'
'What—what's the matter?' here gasped our unfortunate hero, who had recovered his breath; 'you—Muggle—what do you mean by it?' "
Moreover, muggles was the word used by jazz musicians to describe marijuana in the 1920s and '30s, as Brendan McNally tells Omnivore.

GENES AND CANCER
The New England Journal of Medicine publishes an important report on the causes of cancer. Hereditary factors have been exaggerated, it seems. To read the abstract click here. In an accompanying editorial, the journal says: "From this work has come the widely accepted estimate that 80 to 90 percent of human cancer is due to environmental factors. Yet in the past 15 years, the explosion of molecular genetics has overshadowed environmental explanations by revealing genetic mechanisms underlying cancer."

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MONKEY BUSINESS
Belief.net posts a special on the 75th anniversary of the Scopes trial, perhaps the most important American court case of the 20th century. Gregg Easterbrook explains what happened and imagines a 21st-century battle between creationists and Darwinists. For transcripts from the courtroom, click here. To read H. L. Mencken's account of the so-called Monkey Trial click here.

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WHAT IS AN IDEAL STEAK?
Anthony Bourdain, the chef at Les Halles and the author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, explains the wonders of an onglet. "Unprotected by bone or fat it quickly [becomes] dark and unsalable to American customers for whom all steak [should be] rosy sirloin. ... For the French, though, this cut [is] a rare pleasure—because of its exposed location, it comes in contact with the air and begins aging almost immediately after the animal is slaughtered, and so it is more flavorful."

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THE FEAR AND THE FURY OF ANTICOMMUNISM
Writing in the Guardian, Arthur Miller recalls McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and how he came to write The Crucible. "In 1956, HUAC subpoenaed me—I was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to identify writers I had met at one of the two communist writers' meetings I had attended many years before. … However, the news of my forthcoming marriage to Marilyn Monroe was too tempting to be passed. That our marriage had some connection with my being subpoenaed was confirmed when Chairman Walters of the HUAC sent word to Joseph Rauh, my lawyer, that he would be inclined to cancel my hearing if Miss Monroe would consent to have a picture taken with him." A new book by Tom and Phil Kuntz, The Sinatra Files: The Secret FBI Dossier includes many documents that show the colloboration between various writers and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI as well as HUAC. Edificerex.com says: "What's so troubling about The Sinatra Files is that it shows just how many writers and publications were involved with the FBI in a manner that was not only unethical but often downright treacherous."

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IMPENDING EXTINCTION
Despite the news that Bill Gates will give $100 million to Botswana to help the country fight its catastrophic AIDS problem, the president of the country, Festus Mogae, tells the first international conference on AIDS, currently in progress in South Africa: "We really are in a national crisis. We are threatened with extinction. People are dying in chillingly high numbers. We are losing the best of young people. It is a crisis of the first magnitude." But the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who has expressed his suspicions about HIV, " dashed the hopes of thousands of participants, and noisy protesters, who wanted to hear him state clearly that H.I.V. causes AIDS." In the New York Review of Books, Helen Epstein writes about how " Mbeki had begun to solicit the opinions of a murky group of California scientists and activists who believe that AIDS is caused not by HIV but by a vague collection of factors, including malnutrition, chemical pollution, recreational drugs, and by the very pharmaceutical drugs that are used to treat the disease." For proof of the correlation between HIV and AIDS, Mbeki might like to consult the National Institutes of Health's Web site.

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THE WOES OF PUBLISHING ARE SELF-INFLICTED
Felix Dennis, owner of Maxim magazine, tells Inside.com why magazines are in such trouble: "Americans are in love with … the idea of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. They rewrite everything at least four times. They think it makes it better. It doesn't. Actually, what it does is crush the spontaneity out of it."

CRICKET IN THE USA
Rob Nixon of the Atlantic Monthly writes about the quiet but sure rise of cricket in America. He says that he "once mentioned to an American friend that Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett were both ardent cricket fans. 'Of course,' the friend responded. 'All that organized futility.' " Certain U.S. cities seem keen to see such organized futility become more popular. Asked about the $30-million stadium that will be built in Brooklyn, Ken Podziba, Mayor Giuliani's sports commissioner, says, "We don't want people to think of just basketball, baseball, and hockey—they should think of cricket, too. We want a cricket field that will attract the world's best players for a New York audience." Thanks to the efforts of immigrants from India, Pakistan, and the West Indies, there are hundreds if not thousands of clubs across the country—New York boasts more than 170 teams. (Omnivore played for Staten Island a few years ago.) The Pacific Northwest also has a fair number of teams, including the Seattle Cricket Club and Microsoft C.C. (which curiously doesn't yet have a home page). Of course, cricket isn't new to America: It's been played on this continent for centuries, and baseball evolved from the game . If you think, like Robin Williams, that cricket is baseball played on Valium, then consider the Hollywood team that toured Canada in the 1930s, which included Errol Flynn and Boris Karloff. To find the whereabouts of a cricket club near you, visit the United States of America Cricket Association . For American cricket news, see CricInfo.com . To read the latest issue of Wisden Monthly, one of the best cricket magazines, click here .

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MAD ABOUT POTTER Writing in Slate last year, A.O. Scott said that it's "probably a mistake to try to read too much cultural significance into [the] extraordinary success" of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. But with the arrival of the fourth Harry Potter book less than 48 hours away, who can resist? Adults are delighted by the success of the Potter books because it suggests that children are reading and not watching television. But part of the appeal is the author, J.K. Rowling. Her life is hugely attractive to adults bored by the kind of New Economy success you read about in Fast Company. In a Newsweek interview, Rowling said: " I was the most disorganized person that ever walked this earth." Asked by the London Times about the troubles in her life, Rowling quoted the Buddha: " 'Life is Suffering.' I love that. … Because I think YES. Life is not supposed to be neat. … It's a comfort to all of us who have messed up. And then you find your way back, bizarrely." To read the Rowling interview in Salon, click here. For the latest Potter news, click here. To find out more about the campaign to prevent Harry Potter books from being banned in various states, click here. To read about the novelist who claims that Rowling is a plagiarist, click here.

PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR AS AN ADJECTIVE
"The senior Baudelairean disliked her." So goes a blurb for an article about mischief in Vanderbilt University's French department that appears—where else?—in the new issue of Lingua Franca. But what is a Baudelairean, and should it be Baudelar-ean or ian? The adjectival use of authors' and artists' names is proliferating  in newspapers and magazines. Some, such as Pinteresque, Dickensian, Jeffersonian, Proustian, Orwellian, Machiavellian, Swiftian, Platonist, Cartesian, Kafkaesque, and Shakespearian—are familiar. But other authors—such as Amis, Eggers, and Sontag—present difficulties. Should someone be described as an Amisian or an Amisite, an Eggersian or or an Eggersite, a Sontagian or a Sontagiste? Fowler's Modern English Usage suggests that euphony should be the only guide in these more taxing cases: Use it if it sounds right. On the other hand, what exactly is a Baudelairean or, for that matter, a Eggersite? Omnivore asks its readers to provide definitions for the adjectival use of authors' surnames. The best definitions, which must be no longer than 10 words, will be posted on this site at the end of the month. 

Photograph of Festus G. Mogae by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.Illustrations by Nina Frenkel.