The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Oct. 7 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

DROWNING BY NUMBERS 1: TIDAL WAVES
The New Scientist and the Scientific American both have stories about the enormous waves that might overwhelm the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The NS reports on the findings of Simon Day, who "has discovered that a huge chunk of La Palma, the most volcanically active island in the Canaries, is now unstable. 'If the flank of the volcano slides into the ocean, the mass of moving rock will push the water in front of it, creating a tsunami wave far larger than any seen in history,' says Day. 'The wave would then spread out across the Atlantic at the speed of a jet airliner until it strikes coastal areas all around the North Atlantic.' " Sarah Simpson, writing in SA, is concerned about the consequences of an underwater landslide on a "slope between the shallow continental shelf and the deep sea, off the coasts of North Carolina and New Jersey. Enormous cracks northeast of Cape Hatteras could be an underwater landslide in the making. … Mud suddenly breaking loose and tearing downslope could displace enough water to swamp the nearby coastline with tsunami waves some five meters (15 feet) high."

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DROWNING BY NUMBERS 2: GAMBLING
In a review of Pathological Gambling: The Making of a Medical Problem by Brian Castellani, the New England Journal of Medicine says that compulsive gambling "is currently one of the fastest-growing mental health problems in [this part] of the world." The condition affects roughly 3 million Americans. One of the greatest observers of modern gambling habits was the sociologist Erving Goffman. In an article published by Reason in 1997, Robert Detlefsen wrote, "Why people gamble has long fascinated social scientists, and there is a wealth of research on the matter, including a famous study by eminent sociologist Erving Goffman. In the 1960s, Goffman worked as a blackjack dealer and croupier in Las Vegas and concluded that gambling was a surrogate for the risk taking that has been removed from daily life courtesy of the modern, bureaucratic state."

STEICHEN TIME …
The Whitney Museum's exhibition of the photography of Edward Steichen  opened yesterday. Steichen, the Whitney's catalog says, "was one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century. A painter and pioneering pictorialist photographer at the turn of the last century, [he] later became chief photographer for Condé Nast Publications." In 1947, Steichen was appointed head of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, a post he held until 1962. To view some of his photographs, click here. For further biographical material, click here. For the New York Times review of the exhibition, click here.

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DROWNING BY NUMBERS 3: PRICE FIXING
Diana Brooks, former head of Sotheby's, pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that she had colluded with Christie's to fix the market price for works of art. Robert Lacey, who has written a history of Sotheby's, told ABC News that "Sotheby's and Christie's are all about money. They are dealing with art, history and beautiful things. But at the end of the day, people go to Sotheby's and Christie's because they believe they can get the best price from them."

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DELIGHTS OF THE MIND"I tried all kinds of things. I was desperate. … I was always practicing my obsession. … The only way to solve such a thing is patience!" So says Richard Feynman in one of the finest books about the scientific method ever written (or told to someone, as Feynman did in this case), Surely, You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character. (Click here to buy it.) No one ever accused Feynman of spying, even if he famously cracked the safes at Los Alamos in the 1940s, when the contents were considerably more "sensitive" than they are today, just to prove that he could. Shortly after the book's publication (click here to read a review) Feynman was asked to join a congressional inquiry into the 1987 Challenger disaster. What next for Wen Ho Lee?

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ATTENTION SEEKERS
In death, as in life, John Kennedy Jr. is pursued by journalists eager to grab some attention. The latest sensation is Stephen Pomper, who uses the July 1999 accident to make a point about the need for greater regulation of pilots. Kennedy, he writes, "was allowed to go up into the moonless haze without the instrument training that might have allowed him to save himself." Pomper obviously hasn't bothered to read the NTSB report, because the pilot had received instrument training, though had not received his rating. In August, Kennedy was the subject of an odd article by Malcolm Gladwell published by The New Yorker, which Christiane Amanpour described as "psychobabble." As many NTSB reports declare, even the most able of pilots, with the best of planes, the highest of ratings, and the finest of instruments can (and do) have their one fatal flight.

VANITIES
Franklin Foer
is the New Republic's newest attack journalist, and his latest piece for the magazine displays his ability to bite other journalists around their ankles. The target this time is Vanity Fair writer Gail Sheehy, who defended herself against Foer's charges in a column for the MSNBC network. The writer also has her own Web site— gailsheehy.com—where, in words and pictures, she explains her theory of generational change.

WASHINGTON'S LOSS
According to Suck.com, "[t]he Fort Necessity National Battlefield is America's greatest, least-appreciated historic site." The National Park Service says of the field: "Colonial troops commanded by 22-year-old Colonel George Washington were defeated in this small stockade at the 'Great Meadow.' This opening battle of the French and Indian War began a seven year struggle between Great Britain and France for control of North America." To read the introduction to Fred Anderson's history of the conflict, The Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, click here.

RULES FOR LIVING
Writing in Praxispost.com, an excellent medical Web site, E.J. Kessler examines the ethics of the emergency room. "There's a lot of overlap in the roles of the chaplain and the physician," Dr. Edward Reichman tells Kessler. "Literally every shift an elderly patient arrives in respiratory distress. … Do you put the patient on a respirator or not? Jewish law says that person should be put on a respirator. If there's a conflict between your personal ethic and that of the patient, do you defer to the patient's ethic and potentially compromise your belief?"

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WHAT IS A NOVEL? The editorial writers of the New York Times raise the question of literary authenticity and, in particular, which version of Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward, Angel should be considered "genuine." A new version of the novel, O Lost: A Story of a Buried Life, was recently published. It excludes the work of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary editor, whose influence on Wolfe's writing was considerable. Last Month Zachary Leader wrote about the first version of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, which was titled Trimalchio. "Once upon a time," Leader writes, "authors were believed to improve their work in revision. Then editorial theory fell in love with first versions, stigmatising second thoughts as impositions. The old dispensation, in which rejected drafts and variants were seen as false starts happily rectified on the road to a work's final form, which was an incarnation of the author's final intention, became 'The Whig Interpretation of Literature.' "

LAW AND ORDER ON LONG ISLAND
Richard Meier's federal courthouse on Long Island is "monumental," according to New York magazine. "A lookout by day and a lantern at night, the 600-foot-long, 235-foot-high glass façade, protected by a dynamically bowed and gridded sunscreen, allows views from all the public spaces inside to the sweeping plaza out front and the Atlantic in the distance." Meier has his own Web site; click here to view it and click here to view his courthouse.

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THE TIME OF HIS LIFE Norman Mailer has written many books, and some contain a character named Mailer. Tonight, PBS airs a documentary about the novelist and pugilist as part of the station's "American Masters" series. In an interview with Bernard Weinraub, Mailer talked about his life as an American. "I've always felt that my relationship to the United States is analogous to a marriage. … I love this country. I hate it. I get angry at it. I feel close to it. I'm charmed by it. I'm repelled by it." In another interview, published by the Christian Science Monitor, Mailer cautioned younger writers about drifting toward cynicism. "It's good for quick results … Good, available writing almost always is funny and sharp and biting and cynicism is perfect for that. But cynicism is really a roadblock to becoming a bit of a philosopher."

IN VINO VERITAS
An amphora containing 850-year-old Sicilian wine was recently discovered at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The Wine Spectator says the find will give wine-makers a chance to learn more about ancient wine practices.

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THE IMPOSTER
The New York Times reports on the life of a con artist named Christopher Rocancourt, who spent this summer in the Hamptons telling the rich and famous that he was a Rockefeller. His schemes, the Times reports, were "simple and always the same: stock deals, easy loans, dine and dash. His targets were from New York's anonymous moneyed class—not the A-listers, but people of position and wealth, people who should have known better. ... [H]e skipped bail in August, charged in East Hampton with impersonation and running out on his $19,000 bed-and-breakfast tab." That Rocancourt was offered bail is bizarre. In October 1998, as Los Angeles News Channel Two reported (scroll down), Rocancourt "was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after a shoot out in West Hollywood. ... Rocancourt was also wanted by the District Attorney's Special Investigations Division, which charged him with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute false government documents in a passport ring." It is hardly surprising to learn from the Times that Rocancourt has fled the country using a forged passport.

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SHOWTIME Larry Gagosian is an art dealer and gallery owner, and his influence over the contemporary art scene is important whether you like his taste or not. (Click here to visit the Gagosian site.) In an interview with Philip Delves Broughton to mark a forthcoming Damien Hirst exhibition, Gagosian recounts his rise to fame. "I didn't know any better. I couldn't pretend to be some hyper-bred European. I didn't really have the background or the social or professional structure to kind of plug myself into. If it looked brash, it wasn't that I was trying to be brash or draw attention to myself. I just didn't know how else to go about it."

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THE IRRESISTIBLE RISE OF O According to Fortune magazine's nebulous yearly index of the 50 Most Powerful Women in America, Oprah Winfrey ranks 15th. In 1998, she was second; in 1999, 26th. This year's position is owed to the success of O: The Oprah Magazine, which, as Alex Kuczynski reports, has seen readership grow from zero to 2 million in four issues. One of the more surprising statistics listed by Kuczynski is that 210,000 people bought subscriptions after visiting the Oprah Web site. Cynics say that the success is due to Oprah's fame, though the same cynics said that the failure of George magazine said something about the celebrity of John Kennedy. Kurt Andersen, quoted in an article by Rick Poyner about the future of magazines, says: "Only [those who have] a distinct and valuable point of view and/or provide distinctly valuable information and analysis will survive."

ORIGINS OF SAMIZDAT
An exhibition in Berlin charts the beginnings of samizdat literature. As the {{Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung#2:http://www.faz.com/IN/INtemplates/eFAZ/docmain.asp?rub={B1311FFE-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={DEABDBF2-9795-11D4-B997-009027BA226C}}} explains, "the Russian poet, Nikolai Glazkov … placed the term Samsebyazdat (Oneself Publishing House) on the homemade covers of his unwanted collections of poems beginning in 1953. The work contained some pompous verse: 'There's no room for the best poet/ Plans and economic cycles set limits/ So to end my unjust suffering/ I have invented the Oneself Publishing House.' … Abbreviated to Samizdat, the name soon caught on, and provided the name for Russian books that were sent abroad for publication." The current issue of the New York Review of Books contains a long letter from Isaiah Berlin about Russian literature and art at the end of the 1940s and the circumstances that led Glazkov and others to samzidat.

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PRO AND ANTI-AMERICANISM
To say that Julie Burchill is a pungent writer is like saying that a manure heap is a rose bush. In one of her recent stink bombs, Burchill writes: "When Brits move to America … they move there for one of two reasons, both of which have nothing to do with art. They move there because they are rich and greedy for more, or because, unconsciously, they worship evil. [What] the US has done, is doing and will do more damage to this planet and its people than Nazi Germany, fascist Japan and David Baddiel put together." The same paper also published an article by Anthony Holden on why he's chosen to live in America. "[T]he intellectual, cultural and literary life of the Eastern seaboard is (like the language) more alive … than the primping and preening of London's cosy circle of back-patting glitterati. Viewed from here … the old country seems more than ever like some overgrown, nose-in-air, single-sex Pall Mall club, whose pettifogging rules it is so rejuvenating to escape."

NEW RIGHTS FOR AN OLD COUNTRY
England's first Bill of Rights was signed in 1689. Now, 311 years later, and thanks to the Human Rights Act, there is a second. As the Guardian explains: "The act incorporates into UK law the European Convention on Human Rights. Public authorities and those exercising public functions … will be obliged to respect all rights laid down by the European convention." The consequences of the act will be far-reaching (for the Financial Times' report, click here): more individual freedoms, fewer restrictions on the press to report abuses of power, more power to the courts, though the article on free speech is less wide-ranging than its U.S. counterpart. Any hope that the act will alter traditional marital arrangements—much desired by gay groups—is unlikely. Home Secretary Jack Straw  declared on a Sunday morning chat show: "Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. So I see no circumstances in which we would ever bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages."

WHEN THE ARMY GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
Violence and Hollywood has proved to be a durable campaign issue. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, an alliance between the Army and Hollywood has received less attention. The Institute for Creative Technologies will make training movies for Army recruits. Their "eye-popping mix of voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and gee-whiz hardware …  makes computer-generated humans look and act like the real thing." The CSM continues: "Yet the unusual new training facility, opened just last week with much fanfare, is also raising a moral question: Does this sophisticated new technology used to train soldiers in any way make a statement about the impact simulated violence can have on human behavior—notably kids?"

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HOUSE ON THE HARBOR In the latest issue of the London Review of Books, Murray Sayle writes about the Sydney Opera House."Some think of the Opera House as a superb example of Goethe's frozen music; others imagine a beached white whale, a galleon sailing off to Elfland, nine ears cocked to hear some heavenly aria, nine nuns playing football. 'A bunch of toenails clipped from a large albino dog,' the Sydney journalist Ron Saw once wrote. 'It looks like something that crawled up out of the harbour and died,' a hostile politician sneered, adding: 'you wouldn't sell pies out of it.' "