The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Nov. 11 2000 1:30 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


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."


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.

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."

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."


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.


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."

Lauren Weiner's essay about women in the novels of Henry James appears in the Weekly Standard. "There is an entire class of American wives in James who haven't chosen American spouses, and who therefore come to no good. These women—dubbed 'the fly-away wives' in one story—are a rogue's gallery of schemers, flirts, and spongers." In the same issue of the magazine, Jessica Gavora  writes about Colette Dowling's book The Frailty Myth: Women Approaching Physical Equality. "Like those who complain that congressman Rick Lazio [was] 'overly aggressive' whenever he [went] on the offensive against Mrs. Clinton, Dowling is trying to have it both ways. She is eager to assert the equality of women in all manner of competition with men, and yet unwilling to cede the political power that is attached to the mantle of victimhood."

It's commonly believed that malaria is a disease of the tropics. "That's completely wrong," says Paul Reiter , chief entomologist at the U.S. government's dengue research lab in Puerto Rico. "Until very recently it was widespread in Europe and North America. In the 1880s, virtually all the US was malarious, and even parts of Canada. … In the 1920s, epidemics killed hundreds of thousands in the Soviet Union, right up to the Arctic Circle. …The crucial difference between the tropics and the temperate regions is not that the tropics are hotter but that they don't have cold winters."

The Guardian has republished George Orwell's account of his journey to Germany at the end of World War II. After seeing the destruction brought about by American and British bombers, Orwell wrote: "It is difficult to give actuality to reports of air warfare and the man in the street can be forgiven if he imagines that what we have done to Germany over the past four years is merely the same kind of thing they did to us in 1940. But this error … has in it a potential danger, and the many protests against indiscriminate bombing which have been uttered by pacifists and humanitarians have merely confused the issue. Bombing is not especially inhumane. War itself is inhumane and the bombing plane, which is used to paralyze industry and transport, is a relatively civilized weapon. 'Normal' or 'legitimate' warfare is just as destructive of inanimate objects and enormously so of human lives."


A few weeks ago, this page informed readers about the discovery of an ancient Japanese dwelling. The find turns out to be an elaborate forgery perpetrated by one of the archeologists. According to the Associated Press, Shinichi Fujimura, a prominent archeologist and the vice president of the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute, was a perfectionist "who placed excessive pressure on himself in a drive to find ever-older and more plentiful artifacts from Japan's prehistoric times."

Foreign Policy magazine looks at how the Japanese idea of eating raw fish has found new enthusiasts around the world and how the demand for tuna has altered fishing techniques. Theodore Bestor recalls how sushi became popular in America. "Little mention of any Japanese food appeared in U.S. media until well after World War II. By the 1960s, articles on sushi began to show up in lifestyle magazines like Holiday and Sunset. … A decade later, however, sushi was growing in popularity throughout North America, turning into a sign of class and educational standing. In 1972, the New York Times covered the opening of a sushi bar in the elite sanctum of New York's Harvard Club."

The obesity epidemic is national news and probably affects Democrats, Republicans, and Greens in equal measure. The New York Times is currently running a special on obesity, and in today's installment Natalie Angier writes, "As recent studies reveal, virtually every group known to demography is getting fatter. The poor are getting fatter and the well-to-do are getting fatter. The old are getting fatter, baby boomers and Generation Xers are getting fatter, children too young to have a category are really getting fatter. People are broadening abroad as well."


NASA's thirst for publicity proves insatiable, and on Friday scientists at the agency announced there was a 1 in 500 chance that an object in space might hit Earth on Sept. 21, 2030. (For the International Astronomical Union's statement, click here.) "This is a first for us," David Morrison, a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and chairman of the Astronomical Union's group on such collision hazards, told the Los Angeles Times. "We have never before had a prediction at this high level of probability. In the past we have talked about 1 in 10,000 or 1 in a million." It took less than a day for a Havard astronomer to dismiss the possibility—the object will miss this planet by about 3.5 million miles. Man, that was close. Why, then, did the space agency—which also sets ground rules for releasing news about potential collisions between Earth and asteroids—choose to give everyone an unnecessary fright before it knew the relatively accessible facts of the matter?


Two separate articles published by the New York Times over the weekend concentrate on the future of political science. On Saturday, Emily Eakin wrote about an Internet guerrilla known as "Mr. Perestroika," a person (or maybe a group of people) who's been e-mailing political scientists about the shortcomings of their professional organization, the American Political Science Association, and its journal, the American Political Science Review. On Sunday, Michael Lewis wrote about a company created by two political scientists at Stanford "that will try to address the single greatest problem in polling—getting a random sample of Americans to answer questions—by paying a random sample of Americans for their time." In this respect, as in others, political science is catching up with political comedy. In a Guardian interview, Jon Stewart says, "The longer I'm doing this I'm coming to learn that entertainment, politics and the media are really just juggling the same balls. We're all going for ratings, so we function by the same rules. What's a political poll other than a focus group for a television show?"

David Attenborough, the broadcaster and environmentalist, is not Ralph Nader, though he, like the Green Party candidate, holds the view that humans are becoming an ever lonelier species on the planet. "I hope I'm not scaremongering," he tells the Telegraph. "But in the past 30 years, humans have used up one third of the world's natural resources. We've over-harvested, destroyed habitats and polluted the atmosphere to such an extent that if we don't do something about it now, half the species on earth—from plants and bacteria to whales and tigers—may go extinct over the next hundred years."


Debate continues about Patrick Tierney's yet-to-be published Darkness in El Dorado, his book about the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and the geneticist James Neel. John Tooby refuted Tierney's conclusions—some had appeared as an extract in The New Yorker—in Slate. The New Yorker defended itself against Tooby's charges, though contributors to Slate' s "Fray" weren't persuaded. John J. Miller of the National Review interviewed Chagnon in October: "E.O. Wilson calls [Chagnon] every other day. Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker have backed him publicly. UC-Santa Barbara and the University of Michigan maintain websites that are in the process of posting point-by-point refutations of Tierney's arguments. 'I'm considering legal action,' says Chagnon." On his Web site, Chagnon links to a letter written by Neel in 1967 that suggests that the outbreak of measles took place before Chagnon and Neel administered the vaccine Edmonston B to the Yanomamö. "There seems to be a raging measles epidemic amongst the Yanomamo," Neel informs the Venezuelan authorities. "According to our information, measles was first introduced on the Brazilian side, at Totootobi when the daughter of the missionary there, Keith Wardlaw, came down with measles which she had presumably contracted when the family was in Manaus on leave." What strikes the compiler of this page as odd is how Tierney's book came to be nominated for a National Book Award before its publication. Isn't this as peculiar as nominating a Broadway show for a Tony before opening night?

Denis Dutton, an American philosopher who teaches in New Zealand, is the editor of Philosophy and Literature and the founder of the Arts & Letters Web page. In an interview with Ray Sawhill, Dutton says: "One thing that surprises me is that people are not necessarily looking for short pieces [on the Internet]. Many of our most popular items have actually been quite long. This challenges the idea that everything on the Internet ought to be short and sharp. People are also looking for longer, meditative pieces that provide an occasion for thinking."


Dismissed as a crank while he lived, William Blake is now considered one of the more radically inclined poets. One hundred years after his death, part of his poem "Jerusalem" was put to music by Hubert Parry and has been a national and environmental anthem ever since. London's Tate Gallery will shortly open an astonishingly large Blake exhibition, which will include the colored illustrations for the entire "Jerusalem" poem. It is the first time the engravings have been seen in Britain—they were lent by the Yale Center for British Art.

The European Commission is alarmed by the possibility that much of Southern Europe may come to resemble a desert in the next 100 years. (For the commission's environment Web site, click here.) Northern Europe will become both wetter and warmer. It's likely that should the predictions prove accurate, then tropical diseases—for example, malaria—will become more prevalent in places such as the Netherlands and Britain, countries with extensive wetlands prone to flooding (as New Scientist explains) and to mosquitoes.


Anyone who has traveled on an Italian train in recent years will understand the notion of cell phone hell. The incessant ringing and nattering is enough to bring on mal di testa in even the most hardened of skulls. Here in the United States, the situation isn't as bad, but in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Jonathan Rowe laments the absence of quietness on board American planes and trains. "Thomas Carlyle once advised Anthony Trollope to use travel as a time to 'sit still and label his thoughts.' For centuries, travel played this quiet role. I have a hunch that the eloquence and depth of this nation's founders had partly to do with their mode of travel."