The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Nov. 18 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT AND DRINK
Praxis Post interviews Michael Apstein, a wine connoisseur who is also a liver specialist. "He begins with a disclaimer: he has no financial stake in the wines they're about to sample. 'My conflict of interest is at the other end of the food chain, so to speak,' he announces. 'Because I'm a liver doctor.' "… "It's no coincidence that Apstein chose to specialize in gastroenterology and hepatology. … [O]n a fundamental level, Apstein says, he always felt more sympathy for patients with stomachaches than with, say, chest pain or rash. After all, he really likes to eat and drink."

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ART THEFT
Afghanistan's National Museum was plundered by thieves in the early 1990s, as Luke Harding discovered on a journey to Kabul. "A series of vans had rolled up at night outside the museum's side door. The two-tonne Buddhist reliefs, for example, were lifted off their iron hooks, piled in the back, and hidden under a series of mattresses. They were then driven across the Pakistan border, via the Khyber Pass, to the frontier town of Peshawar, which is the center of the illegal trade in Afghan antiquities." Inevitably, some of Afghanistan's treasures are now making their appearance on the international art scene.

BAD WATER
Are dams good? Perhaps not, if Kader Asmal, chairman of the World Commission on Dams, is to be believed. As the New Scientist reports, the commission says that "one reason many dams have failed to deliver is that their reservoirs have clogged up with silt far faster than expected. Every year an extra one per cent of the world's reservoir capacity is taken up with silt. In the worst cases, reservoirs lost more than 80 per cent of their storage capacity to silt in less than 30 years. Even the claim that hydroelectric dams provide 'green' electricity has been undermined by the commission. It concludes that between one and 28 per cent of all artificial greenhouse-gas emissions could be from rotting vegetation in dams."

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WHO IS KATHERINE HARRIS?
In addition to her role as the state's chief elections official, the secretary of state oversees Florida's arts, libraries, and historic preservation programs and is therefore an influential figure on educational and environmental matters. (For various Harris controversies, including an explanation of why she voted in favor of a bill that would have outlawed absentee voting in certain elections, click here.) Naples News surveyed the genesis of Harris' political career two years ago. "[Gov. Lawton] Chiles put her on a path that would lead to politics by appointing her to the board of trustees of the state's Ringling Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of works by Peter Paul Rubens and his followers. When a senator cut the Sarasota museum's budget because he had a dispute with its director—just the sort of politics Harris detested—she and other board members went to Tallahassee and persuaded lawmakers to restore the money. Later, Harris became frustrated with Sarasota's freshman senator, Democrat Jim Boczar, because he had shown little interest in the museum. 'Boczar said as far as he was concerned a Rubens was a sandwich,' Harris said." Of her efforts to improve the arts in Florida, Harris told voters in 1998: "I sponsored a bill that created a dedicated funding source which moved Florida from 42nd nationally in per capita funding to 1st in historic preservation and 2nd in cultural funding."

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CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF THE NEXT GREAT DRAMA
In an interview with Feed's Steven Johnson, Frank Rich comments on how the Florida ballot became a "mediathon." "First of all, a great test of whether a mediathon has legs is the reappearance of people who participated in previous mediathons. Now we have Alan Dershowitz from O.J., we have the lawyers from Elian Gonzalez, although it is rather unfortunate that the fisherman and other characters from that story haven't appeared themselves, since they are in Miami. And, of course, there's the whole cast and crew of 'Impeachment: Monicagate.' "

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LITERARY AWARDS
The judges of National Book Award have cast their votes, and last night the results were announced at a Manhattan hotel. For results and analysis, click here, here, and here. In an article about the role of literary prizes, Laura Miller asked editors to say which prize they most appreciated. Charles McGrath, editor of the New York Times Book Review, said: "The Booker is my favorite in some ways because it's the wackiest, the most contentious. The judges will publicly get up and deride each other, and the other great thing is that the British can bet on it. If we could once a year legalize gambling, that would be great, then people would actually have to read these books."

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PAINTING OF THE MOMENT
Is Brice Marden's "Cold Mountain" the most beautiful American painting of recent times? (Click here to view one of the canvases in the series.) According to Richard Dorment, it is. "You can sense Marden's own presence in the canvas in the way that pigment is applied with loose arm and wrist movements," Dorment argues, "the brush travelling lightly and rhythmically over a gray ground filled with erasures and pentimenti (evidence of an artist's change of mind in a painting). Nothing feels fixed, nothing static. Shapes constantly dissolve and merge into new forms, even as our eye tries to pin them down, creating a palimpsest." The Serpentine Gallery is hosting an exhibition of Marden's work. For additional Marden links, click here.

BALANCING ACT
"There are three very good reasons to rush to see the new production of Harold Pinter's 1978 Betrayal," says John Heilpern. "Juliette Binoche, Juliette Binoche and Juliette Binoche!" The New York Observer's theater critic is particularly impressed by the manner of Binoche's delivery. "She isn't tempted into the traditional traps of playing Pinter–the weighty pauses, the mysterious silences and blind alleys, the dramatic nervous tics of loudly stating the unsaid." Ben Brantley, the New York Times' man on Broadway, is less enthusiastic about Binoche, who he believes is miscast and doesn't strike the right balance between "baffling and baffled."

MACHINES ARE NO LESS PARTISAN THAN MEN
Steven Johnson, the editor of Feed, explains: "Since voters who make incomplete punches are likely to be spread randomly over the political spectrum, rescuing their votes and adding them to the totals in any particular county is likely to deliver more votes to the candidate who is more popular there than to his rival. A machine that undercounts votes has a Republican bias in a predominantly Democratic county and a Democratic bias in a predominantly Republican county."

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PROMISCUITIES
According to James Meek, the evolutionary biologist Tim Birkhead and his followers are the "paparazzi of the science world. They travel to remote islands and put up with extreme discomfort in the hope of catching animals having sex with each other, and when they do, splash their names and their pictures over the pages of the science journals." But as Meek argues, Birkhead's research has destroyed the conventional wisdom about sexual selection. "The truth is that females of most species actively seek multiple partners to have sex with. If the aim of males is to put their sperm into as many females as possible, females are trying, with equal determination, to get the very best sperm to fertilize their eggs—even if that means having sex with many males in turn."

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HISTORY OR SCORE-SETTLING?
Why are conservative historians of the Cold War resurrecting one of the more odious political figures of the 20th century? As Sam Tanenhaus says in a review of Arthur Herman's biography of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, this book is part of "a growing conservative historiography that seems to proceed from the belief that for too long parti pris liberals have shaped our understanding of the recent past, so it is up to partisans of the right to redress the imbalance and even the score—not by offering new evidence or careful analysis but by exposing the pretensions and hypocrisies of 'the other side.' "

SAVING THE PAPERS
Nicholson Baker
founded the American Newspaper Repository in 1999. This year, the novelist acquired a vast collection of American newspapers from the British Library—7,500 "brick-thick" volumes, as he tells the Telegraph. "These volumes are physical objects that represent history, the raw store of history that we have—the chief, the main, the principal urban record of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, rarer than most of the stuff that libraries keep in their rare book collections," says Baker. To find out more about the American Newspaper Repository, click here.

SEX ON THE BRAIN
"So what do philosophers talk about when they talk about sex?" asks Elizabeth Spelman in a review of two books by Martha Nussbaum. "Well … more than enough issues to keep social theorists, ethicists, legal scholars, and hoteliers in business for a long time." Spelman goes on to say: "Having insisted … that 'feminism should become less insular and more international, more attentive to the urgent problems of unequal hunger, unequal healthcare, and lack of political equality that are the daily lot of women in many parts of the world,' … Nussbaum hopes to show how the combination of gender inequality and poverty makes particularly clear the need for attention to what she calls the 'central human capabilities.' "

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GENIUS OF THE VICTORIAN AGE
Robert Howlett's famous photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (click here to view it) is a portrait of the Victorian age. In an appreciation of a new Brunel exhibition at London's Design Centre, Jonathan Glancey says of the iconic photograph: "You can see that [Brunel] was bursting with energy and had precious little time for the etiquette of his age. … His restless hands are thrust into his high trouser pockets, one leg is bent as if he is ready to stride out of the camera's frame. His gaze is far off. There is a cigar cantilevered aggressively to one side of his wide mouth. So much to do, says Howlett's unforgettable portrait, so little time."

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FACE TO FACE Like the Exorcist, which was recently rereleased, Deep Throat was a popular 1970s film even among readers of the New York Review of Books, which famously reviewed the movie in its pages. The star of the pornographic film was Linda Lovelace, who later claimed she was forced into the role against her will, and who subsequently became a feminist darling for saying so. In this week's New York Press, Tanya Richardson catches up with the former actress, who now hopes to start up her own Web site. As Richardson reports, "she'll talk about the studies that show pornography makes young men more callous and detached. She'll explain that she's not pro-censorship, she's antiporn. To her that means wishing people didn't need pornography to get off; that sex is a beautiful, healthy, private affair between two people, face to face."

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ANTROPOLOGICAL BATTLES
The debate about the discipline of anthropology and the practices of certain anthropologists continues. Yesterday, Bruce Albert, the head of the National Academy of Sciences, attacked Patrick Tierney's now controversial book Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (which was nominated for a National Book Award). He said that Tierney has tarnished the reputation of a respected scientist, James Neel. "Mr. Tierney's misuse of source material and the factual errors and innuendoes in his book do a grave disservice to a great scientist and to science itself." (Albert is quoted in an article published by the Chronicle for Higher Education that requires a subscription.) In The Nation, David Price investigates new and old charges that suggest some anthropologists were (and are) on the CIA's payroll. Does working for the state in such a clandestine fashion compromise academic integrity? Price asks.

WRONG BANANA
While British reporters proclaim that the United States is a banana republic when compared to their own marvelously democratic banana monarchy (for a digest of jingoistic British reporting, see June Thomas' "International Papers"), the British Council has published a poll that says that people around the world tend to view Britons as rude and condescending. Says Gerry Hanson of the national Campaign for Courtesy (and jeez, what sort of country needs this sort of campaign): "The British have lost their reputation for politeness and that is a great shame. We all need to learn to smile a lot more and be patient."

QUALITY DISCLOSURE
In Adam Phillips' view, the second volume of Christopher Isherwood's journals reveals an appealing style of self-portraiture. Isherwood "doesn't assume that being ashamed of ourselves in public is the best kind of truth-telling. Because he knows so much about charm (and its discontents)—because he is so attentive to the ways in which people go around impressing each other and themselves—he never goes in for the brash boastfulness of modern self-disclosure. His writing, in other words, is an experiment in non-confessional honesty."

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PALM BEACH STORY
Preston Sturges
' movie Palm Beach Story was made in 1942, and for Sturges fans this tale of a social gold-digger is his best film. To view the Preston Sturges Home Page, click here. The compiler of this page is an enthusiast of The Great McGinty, a comedy about political corruption. "They're always talkin' about graft," a character in the movie says, "but they forget if it wasn't for graft, you'd get a very low type of people in politics—men without ambition—jellyfish." For the latest news from Palm Beach county, turn to the Palm Beach Daily News or the Palm Beach Post.

THE PLATH LESS TRAVELED
Sylvia Plath's admirers and detractors will be pleased with the publication of the poet's journals. (Click here to buy the volume.) Joyce Carol Oates was skeptical of the myth of Plath in the New York Times Book Review. "Plath was a woman of myriad, warring selves, a perpetual fascination to herself. … Yet Plath's elevation in the 1970's as a feminist martyr and icon is comically incongruous with her hatred of the female sex. …; her competition with women poets …; and, most chilling, her astonishing declaration of her hatred for her mother, Aurelia, which runs on for pages in the journal for December 1958." For the Academy of American Poets' links page to Plath sites, click here. To read an extract from the journals, click here . In May, Ian Hamilton defended Ted Hughes' role as executor of Plath's estate. "Accounts of the Plath/Hughes relationship will for ever need to touch on his function as the keeper of Plath's flame. This does not seem unfair. In life, Hughes's predicament was unenviable; now that he is dead, one has to hope that people will be more prepared to see things from his point of view."