The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

March 2 2001 3:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


If, as ex-tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand told 60 Minutes, the cigarette is a delivery system for nicotine, then the French fry might be considered a delivery system for fat, and though the effects of smoking and eating fat are quite different, a diet consisting of large quantities of fries may have serious consequences for your health. Malcolm Gladwell reports on the issue in this week's New Yorker: "As many Americans now die every year from obesity-related illnesses—heart disease and complications of diabetes—as from smoking, and the fast-food toll grows heavier every year." Not that every fat is bad—some are essential to good health—but the fat in fries, so-called "trans unsaturated fat," can, as Gladwell writes, "wreak havoc with the body's ability to regulate cholesterol."Walter Willet, the scientist who identified the substance, says this fat leads to at least 30,000 unnecessary deaths in America each year. Junk food is also the subject of Eric Schlosser's new book Fast Food Nation, which was reviewed by Slate's Rob Walker in the New York Times. (A chapter about abattoirs was published by Rolling Stone.)


Currently, McDonald's has 28,000 restaurants in 120 countries, yet as the company's Web site points out, "on any day, even as the market leader, McDonald's serves less than one percent of the world's population." Room for growth, indeed, and according to a report published by the United Nations' Population Division, there will be 9.3 billion people on the planet by 2050—though who's to say whether McDonald's will be tending to one percent of humankind in 50 years' time. (Assuming normal service continues, McDonald's can expect to sell almost 34.8 billion meals a year—not the numbers Woody Allen anticipated in Sleeper.) Asia and Africa will witness the biggest population increases, while Europe's numbers will whither. Asked by the New York Times to explain why America's population is expected to rise, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute said: "The U.S. is the most fertile of developed nations. …My pet theory—and you can't prove this—is that it has to do with greater religiosity than in Europe or Japan."

Catesby Leigh of the Weekly Standard believes it is "politically correct" to say "I hate war." The words are Franklin Delano Roosevelt's, and they appear on the FDR memorial in Washington, D.C., though the sentiment has been expressed by many people on many occasions—and, one imagines, by almost anyone who has fought in war. Leigh, however, believes that the presence of these words reflects a larger confusion about the nation's war memorials, though he refuses to believe that they may resonate with a public that is mightily ambivalent about warfare. "This confusion," he writes, "this anti-monumental monumentalism—is the overwhelming feature of memorial architecture today, and it is ruining America's public spaces. Modernism failed, in large part, because it could not satisfy our need for monuments: To be a human being …is to desire the monuments that modernism could not provide. … Every memorial and public building seems to be at odds with every other, and time and again one finds architects trying to duck the problem of monumentality by hiding their memorials…." The solution, so Leigh argues, are big sunny arches, just like those built by the Romans to commemorate a triumphant victory over those ghastly savages in northern Europe or the Middle East. One can only wonder which will be first the first war to receive the triumphal treatment—Korea or Vietnam or that hollow victory in the desert commonly known as the Gulf War?


If you (or someone you know) suffer from a rare genetic disease or affliction, how can you use your condition or illness to your best advantage? As the New Scientist suggests, you could follow the example of Patrick and Sharon Terry who founded PXE International after learning that their child had Pseudoxanthoma elasticum, which, as their useful Web site explains, is "a heritable connective tissue disorder. Calcification of connective tissue occurs in various places in the body, especially the skin, eyes, and arteries." As the NS reports: "In the 1990s, they set up blood and tissue banks and convinced patients with PXE to donate samples. These, they offered to scientists on the strict understanding that PXE International would receive a stake in any intellectual property that emerged. Fortunately, enlightened researchers and universities accepted their offer. Last year, when the gene for PXE was discovered with help from the group's samples, PXE International took control of the patent rights. The disease affects only 1 in 100,000 people, and no company is going to invest heavily in developing drugs that will sell to only a relatively few customers. Here, the Terrys have a plan. The PXE gene is implicated in wrinkling of the skin and in heart disease, areas that cosmetics and drugs companies are falling over themselves to research."

Foot-and-mouth disease
, a virulent virus that attacks animals with cloven feet (for example, hogs, cattle, sheep, deer, and goats), has broken out in Britain. (The aptly named  explains the nature of the disease.) There's no cure, and inoculation is impractical for a variety of reasons. The origins of the outbreak remain uncertain, yet commentators have ransacked all the big and familiar questions about the modern food supply in the hope of finding something to blame. The Financial Times says the outbreak is a reflection of a farming industry tethered to the idea of producing pork, lamb, and beef at the cheapest possible price, while the BBC and various other news outlets blame the disappearance of the rural abattoir. The head of Britain's farmers union fingers globalization. "Is it a coincidence that we had classical swine fever in East Anglia last year of an Asian origin, and foot and mouth now, also of an Asian origin? It raises questions about freer world trade." Since it's possible that FMD has traversed the English Channel, the European Commission and member governments have adopted measures to halt the spread of the disease. According to the {{Frankfurter Allegeimene Zeitung#2:{B1311FCC-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={AE44CD31-0A14-11D5-A3B3-009027BA22E4}}}, German Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Künast "called for an end to the mass shipment of live animals throughout the European Union and said Europe's regional markets should be strengthened instead." But with no firm evidence as to how foot-and-mouth arrived in Britain—not only can FMD be carried by infected animals and animal feed, it can also attach itself to clothing and be found in food for human consumption (as the Times reports, in Germany "all uneaten on-board lunches found on aircraft from London are being taken away and incinerated")—blaming one part of the food supply or another seems premature.


Among the people presumed to have written The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation—an anonymous book on evolutionary theory that preceded Darwin's The Origin of the Species—was Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Byron's daughter. She was not the author (years later, a Scottish publisher Richard Chambers   was so identified); nor was she, as many Ada fanatics believe, the inventor of the computer. In The New Yorker, Jim Holt writes about the Lovelace myth. Ada was a colleague of sorts to Charles Babbage, who developed a never-realized plan to build a "Thinking Machine," and her notes on Babbage's contraption became a sensation when they were published. But as Holt says: "It is doubtful whether Ada herself ‘originated' any of the ideas contained in her notes, except perhaps some of the more exuberantly speculative ones. On all technical and scientific points, regardless of how trifling, her letters show that she deferred to Babbage. Babbage, for his part, had good reason to connive in the fiction that the work was primarily Ada's: it not only made her notes a more effective piece of propaganda for his Analytical Engine but also enabled him to escape responsibility—on the pretense of not having been consulted—for some of her more hyperbolic claims."


One of the subjects discussed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting was wine connoisseurship—" Wine and Conversation: The Semantics of Talking About Taste." As billed by the AAAS, the symposium addressed "the problem of how linguistic semantics connects with sensory experience, the fundamental neurobiology and psychophysics of the human sense of taste, the vocabulary used to describe wines and the consistency with which it is applied, and the chemistry of wine tasting as it forms part of the professional discipline of Oenology." According to Wine Spectator, one of the participants, Ann Noble of the University of California at Davis, objects to the idea that a wine can be described as either masculine or feminine. "The problem I have with that is you need a linguist to translate and guess what someone means. It also often comes from a chauvinistic perspective." If a wine should therefore be neither full-bodied nor lithe, it nevertheless has an unavoidable ancestral spirit, although the origin of certain grape varieties has until recently remained mysterious. As the Economist reports, there's more bastard in the bottle than you might think. "By applying genetic techniques more familiar in the courtroom than the pressing house, [Carole Meredith] has been able to clarify the relationships between many of the great wine-making grapes that dominate both the old and the new worlds. On the way she has shown that a number of noble grapes have some surprisingly vulgar ancestors."


Much of this week's Los Angeles Times Book Review is devoted to the future of book publishing—a question that has, over the last three decades or so, developed a genre all of its own. Indeed, hardly a year goes by without someone pronouncing that the book trade is just about to enter rigor mortis. Marian Wood, a well-known and well-respected New York publisher, identifies the chief problem: Management—more specifically, the corporate management imposed by large media conglomerates. "What may surprise some is that the immediate impact of the bottom line was not some ruthless hacking away at literature. The truly important effect was that this was the moment when management ceased to be drawn from editorial or even marketing ranks and publishing houses began to be headed by MBAs, men with little or no connection to, or knowledge of, the product or the customer, and when middle management ceased to be a bookkeeper and a contracts manager and became bloated with hundreds of financial officers all dutifully engaged in doing the numbers ... But neither could publishing any longer ignore the imperatives of modern management. Problems … of management, leadership and finance have been with us for quite a while, though perhaps not as prominently as today."

In Saturday's "Arts and Ideas" section of the New York Times, Emily Eakin wrote about a vogue for everyday objects that's sweeping through humanities departments across the country. "In fields like art, architecture, history and even English, a growing number of experts are turning to things in an effort to better understand the past. … The academic name for the stuff of everyday life is material culture." As if to emphasize its own interest in quotidian things—or perhaps not to be outdone by the academy—the Times published an article about marginalia  in the same issue and in the same section. According to Edward Rothstein, there's much significance in the notes readers write in the margins of books. "Marginalia create a form of extended argument in which the reader has the upper hand, taking over the text. But the text also stakes its claims: it determines (literally) the boundaries within which a reader's reactions are to be constrained."


Richard Friedman was installed as the head of National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) at the end of last year. In that capacity, he has considerable say over the design and construction of new buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. As the Boston Globe puts it, the commission's powers are "sweeping … It has the right to approve or disapprove any proposed building or monument in the District of Columbia, public or private, if the building has an impact on the federal interest, and 'impact' can mean anything from looks to shadows to traffic." In a statement found on the NCPC's Web site," Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century," the commission says they hope to "preserve … the historic character and open space of the Mall and its adjacent ceremonial corridors while accommodating growth and new development." In an interview with the Globe, Friedman outlines his views: "There are already 100 monuments in Washington, and dozens more are proposed. They can't all go on the Mall. If you put too many in one place, you get a memorial ghetto. … I want to site them in less active places, where they can be triggers for new development… I feel as if I've been training all my life for this job. If we're the greatest country, we should have the greatest capital. Washington should be one of the 10 greatest cities in the world. " A bold ambition, but to what extend can (and should) a non-elected federal official hope to carry out such a plan? Is a great city one where citizens do not have their say?


Peter Kallinder runs the Christopher Hitchens Web, a site devoted to the work of the British author and journalist. Many of the links currently found at the head of this page relate to Hitchens' two-part Harper's article on Henry Kissinger and why the former secretary of state should be tried as a war criminal. (The Guardian has published an abbreviated version of the piece, and has posted an overview of the charges on its Web site.) In the Atlantic Monthly, Hitchens discusses Kissinger with James Fallows. Another of Hitchens' familiar targets is Bill Clinton, who he believes cannot be trusted, and just now, with a pardons imbroglio in full swell, who does? An editorial in today's New York Times, which is almost Hitchens-like in its stridency, says that Clinton "throws our political and legal systems into arrest because he constantly comes up with new ways of skirting the law or misrepresenting the facts that would never have occurred to anyone else in his position." Which is, one imagines, precisely what Hitchens would also say of Henry Kissinger. Let the trials begin!

In a letter to the London Review of Books (scroll down), Michael Neve recalls meeting the psychoanalyst and translator of Freud, Alan Tyson, at a dinner at Oxford. "He leant over to me and [said]: 'What I didn't tell that boring fellow is my great secret. My name is an anagram of NO ANALYST.' Part of me seems to remember that later in the evening he also said that this anagram news had come to him in a dream. Which would be even better and (a rare thing) perfectly Freudian. But an ocean of wines and digestifs had been well at work by then and I have probably made that part up, being by that stage—as was my host—at least three finches short of a species."


What do Bill Clinton and Hannibal Lecter have in common? Both are eminent in their respective fields—politics and serial murder; both like to press the flesh, in one way or another; and both are heroes or anti-heroes, depending on your point of view. But the shared ground doesn't stop here. In his review of Ridley Scott's movie version of Thomas Harris' novel, Slate's David Edelstein suggests that "the world of Hannibal has been reduced to the dictum, 'Eat or be eaten,' " which is, of course, not dissimilar to a refrain heard in Washington, D.C.—that one must destroy one's enemies or be destroyed by them. Few politicians have as many enemies as Bill Clinton does, and although one can argue about how effective he was at destroying them, part of the former president's appeal was that at least he managed to elude his pursuers, not unlike Hannibal. In an article about the significance of Clinton's move to Harlem, Adam Mansbach writes about the former president's popularity among black Americans and why the he seeks their support. "Clinton has … come to expect an almost maternal response from the black community—understanding, unequivocal welcome no matter what time of night he shows up soaking on the doorstep, rebuke only in the form of kindly tut-tut headshaking—and thus, like many who are privileged with such love, he has realized he can get away with anything." It remains to be seen whether Clinton's Harlem, unlike Hannibal's Florence, will prove to be a haven beyond the reach of his enemies, many of whom, like the villainous Mason Verger, seem intent on hunting their quarry to the ends of the Earth.


The disagreements between the two genome research teams, Celera and the Human Genome Project, have led various commentators to ask whether biomedical research is better when funded by private money rather than by public funds. An editorial in the Economist says: "The founders of Celera Genomics found a way to profit from the genome. … They did their work faster and in some ways better than their public-sector rivals—who would probably still be plodding towards their goal had they not had the spur of competition. The public researchers complain that Celera drew on public knowledge in order to advance their private goals. So it did—that is what public knowledge is for. However, the genome remains a common heritage. … Celera has no proprietary rights over the human genome per se, just over its version of that genome. In short, Celera's pursuit of profit has been good for science, and for man." Robert Goldberg, a columnist in the National Review, writes: "The fact is, the best science and discovery, as a study by MIT professors Ian Cockburn and Rebecca Henderson shows, combines financial incentives with intellectual ones. Firms that want to develop the best drugs must also invest in the best discovery research and sustain a vibrant scientific community. When Cockburn and Henderson studied the National Institutes of Health (NIH) contribution to private firms they concluded that it was indirect and led to companies making bigger investments in 'in-house basic research' in tandem with public sector supported efforts. Private investment and inquiry are not mutually exclusive, they are inseparable."


If Mayor Rudolph Giuliani renounced religion, would he be shocked by depictions of a near-naked man nailed to a wooden cross? Maybe not, but more probably yes. It's possible to take God out of the guy, but near impossible to remove the angry guy from a man who, in his crusading moments, often aspires to be the ethics commander in chief of New York. Churches and other places of worship, one imagines, would scurry to the friendly, tolerant terrain of, say, the Garden State. But the mayor is, so he says, a man of faith, and it therefore comes as little surprise that the pope of City Hall has taken exception to a photographer named Renée Cox and her work "Yo Mama's Last Supper" now on show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. According to Michael Kimmelman, one person who would have enjoyed the absurd dispute is Balthus (see below for the painter's obituaries). "Once, at his house in the little mountain village of Rossinière, while looking through a book of paintings from the Louvre, unprompted he suddenly plunged into a soliloquy about America's censorious fixation on his paintings of girls. 'I really don't understand,' he said. He insisted that the work wasn't pornographic, and he was baffled by Americans' inability to grasp the essential difference between eroticism or sexuality and pornography. … 'Advertising is pornographic,' Balthus pointed out, meaning especially the American advertising industry. 'You see a young woman putting on some beauty product who looks like she's having an orgasm.' "


Maggie O'Kane
explains why the war criminal Radovan Karadzic eludes his pursuers. "Karadzic does not have to try too hard to evade Nato soldiers," she writes. "Just 300 troops out of a force of 21,324 are in the area where he is hiding. 'Round here you get the impression that picking up these guys isn't the first priority,' says Lieutenant Andreas Kerl, at the German base near Foca. 'Nobody really mentions him.' " In the New York Review of Books, Aryeh Neier assesses various books that address the question of war crimes and how perpetrators, such as Karadzic, should be put on trial. Toward the end of his article, Neier turns to the brave endeavors of Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who became the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and who has now written a book titled For Humanity. As Neier says, "Goldstone understood that somehow he had to create the impression that the Hague tribunal was succeeding; this was essential if he was to win the cooperation from governments that would make it possible for it to succeed. … His achievement is all the more remarkable for having carried out this assignment in a little more than two years before fulfilling his promise to President Mandela to return to South Africa and serve again on the Constitutional Court."


Everyone agrees that German foreign secretary Jospeh Fischer played an instrumental role in his country's student politics during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet the intensity of the German debate about the youthful actions of their political leaders shows no sign of abating. The Guardian reports that a German judge believes the attacks on Fischer have been mounted by his political enemies, but as an article in the {{Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung#2:{B1311FCC-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={F4749B6F-04B3-11D5-A3B3-009027BA22E4}}} suggests, this is hardly surprising since Fischer is ambitious, ruthless, and an opportunist who has destroyed the party he claims to lead, namely the Greens. "No other German party has a leading personality who is anywhere near as dominant as Mr. Fischer is within the Greens. In some aspects, this is profoundly ironic. It is by no means obvious why a party with such an anti-authoritarian image should pay homage to a leader who has never made a secret of his determined authoritarianism. Mr. Fischer's personal merit as a fighter in the internal battles of the young party was his opposition to the fundamentalism of the party's left wing. … The 'green' Greens were muzzled, and the whole enterprise paid lip service to a coalition concept that, in reality, had long had its day. In that sense, Mr. Fischer's success was very much the Greens' failure—once in government, their own ideas became largely unrecognizable."

Last Tuesday, The New Yorker launched its Web site. A few days later, Ken Layne, a columnist for the Online Journalism Review, crassly suggested that the appearance of the New York weekly on the Internet is conclusive proof that the medium is moribund. "When historians look back on the Internet Bubble, they'll mark February 2001 as the End of Web Publishing. That's because the Web-wary New Yorker has timed the debut of its hideous online edition to coincide with the total collapse of not just the business, but the very idea, of online journalism as some specific thing." If Layne believes his own work represents the "specific thing" that's about to die, then perhaps the death cannot come too soon. (Sneering and whining are among this medium's worst vices.) Like many Web sites in their infancy, The New Yorker's is a work in progress, and one hopes that the editors will make use of the magazine's substantial and interesting archive. Perhaps because of the fluid contractual terms offered to the magazine's staff writers, some of what appears in the print edition will probably appear elsewhere. For example, one can read Jon Lee Andersen's portrait of the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez at  as well as at In today's New York Times, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, is asked about his hopes for the site.


FAKING IT Balthasar Klossowski, better known as the painter Balthus, has died at the age of 92. In an appreciation of the artist's work that appeared in the New York Review of Books last year, John Russell (who is also the author of the New York Times' obituary) said: "He had a horror of being written about. When he made his American debut in New York in 1938 at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, he said, 'If there is any one thing that I hate more than anything else in the world, it is an exhibition preface.' The problem recurred when Balthus had a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the winter of 1956-1957. James Thrall Soby was in charge of the catalog. 'But,' Balthus wrote, 'I beg him to leave out all the biographical details that are so much in fashion today. Ancestry, parentage, mode of life, etc.—all that seems to me completely superfluous. Just tell the public that I was born in Paris, and that I am forty-six years old. That should be quite enough.' (As a matter of fact he was going on forty-nine, but he thought that that, too, was nobody's business.)" Self-invention is perhaps the best explanation for Balthus fear of biography. In a Spectator article about Balthus, Frederick Raphael addressed the question of the painter's mythmaking. "Isn't modern art all about making one's name? Balthus made himself a fancy one. Even so smart a critic as Robert Hughes was gulled into reporting him as related to the Romanovs, to be the grand-nephew of Lord Byron (like B., he even lived for a season in the Villa Diodati on Lake Leman), descended from the Polish royal family and—of course—the illegitimate son of Rainer Maria Rilke, who was indeed the fatal lover of 'Baladine', Balthus's beautiful and romantic mother (all good cover-stories check out to some degree)." The Guardian's obituary writer says that despite Balthus' "failing health, he painted every day in his studio. 'I am always eager not to tire the canvas,' he once said. 'So many painters today have found a trick. I have never been able to find one.' Perhaps that was his secret. For obituaries in the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Telegraph, click here and here.