The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Feb. 24 2001 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

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THE CITY AND ITS NEW PILLARS
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?

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NO REST FOR THE WICKED
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. ( Britannica.com 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.

ANALYZE THIS
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."

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HANNI-BILL
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.

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PRIVATE PROFIT, PUBLIC LOSS?
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."

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OF GODS …
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.' "

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… AND MONSTERS
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."

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STREET FIGHTING DAYS
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:http://www.faz.com/IN/INtemplates/eFAZ/docmain.asp?rub={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."

SHOUTS AND FALSE RUMORS
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 Artisticeyereview.com  as well as at Newyorker.com. In today's New York Times, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, is asked about his hopes for the site.

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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.

MEDICAL WOES
Toward the end of a long review of Sally Satel's book about political correctness and the medical professions, Sherwin Nuland writes: "While it is our obligation to refute those who dwell on social inequality for their own political purposes, it is also our obligation to admit to its existence wherever it is found." Most of Nuland's article, and his ire, is directed at the PC brigade, however, and he agrees with much of what Satel has to say about illusions of medical discrimination, especially when it comes to discussions about breast cancer. He quotes Satel's point that "Breast cancer research has received more money than any other type of cancer research each year since 1985, when the National Cancer Institute began keeping track of cancer-specific funding. It has always received many times the funding of prostate cancer—about five times the amount in 1997 and triple the expenditure in 1999." Nuland then continues: "Nor do numbers support the allegation that federal and other agencies discriminate against women in allocating funds to researchers. Between 1992 and 1998, the data indicate that men and women researchers enjoyed comparable success in the results of their grant applications. In fact, the NIH figures for 1993, the year in which the most complete information is available, are that grants were awarded to 18.3 percent of female applicants and 17.1 percent of males."

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THE PROTESTS AHEAD?
Has the World Trade Organization become the new Vatican? Have large multinational corporations turned into the 21st-century equivalents of feudal lords to whom we offer fealty for our health and financial salvation? Perhaps not quite yet, though in George Monbiot's view this is where we're heading ... or somewhere like it. In a new book, Monbiot argues that "the struggle between people and corporations ... will be the defining battle of the 21st century." (To read Paul Foot's review of Captive State, click here. In a Feb. 8 article for the Guardian, Monbiot wrote, "In seeking to wrest it back, we have yet to develop a coherent political programme to which all of us can subscribe. While the greens support small business, trades unionists find workers within big corporations easier to mobilise. The anarchists want to smash the state, while the socialists want to rebuild it. But the unprecedented solidarity between these disparate groups is beginning, I feel, to develop into a program in its own right: a grassroots reorganisation of the political process, propelling democratic renewal from below."

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AIR JAMS
Matthew Wald, aviation correspondent of the New York Times, explains the results of a statistical analysis of commercial airplane delays in the United States. Two words sum up the entire problem: La Guardia. Delays at the New York airport, which are getting worse by the year, foul up flights around the country. Two points are absent from Wald's conclusions. 1) To what extent have private or corporate jets contributed to the increase in air traffic--and to the delays--at La Guardia (and, indeed, elsewhere)? 2) There's a good high-speed train between Washington, D.C., and New York City--one that often beats the plane considering all the delays. Perhaps Delta and US Airways, airlines that run shuttle services between these two cities, might magnanimously cancel these flights in the interests of their other customers who cannot count on a high-speed train link. The latest issue of Technological Review devotes three articles to the question of airport congestion. In "The Digital Skies," David Talbot writes about how UPS has developed a novel solution to congestion at its chief hub in Kentucky.

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DARWIN RETURNS TO KANSAS
The Kansas Board of Education has overturned a previous ruling that outlawed the teaching of evolution in the state's schools. (To read the board's report click here). But as Kate Beem of the Kansas City Star reports, there may be further battles ahead. "The next state board election is less than two years away, though, and three of the five open seats are held by moderate Republicans and Democrats. It's too early to say whether the science standards will return as an election issue, but members of the pro-evolution group Kansas Citizens for Science predicted that Kansans would remain vigilant." For other reports on the decision click here and here.

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ABOUT CRICKET
With all due respect to fellow Slate contributor, Robert Lane Greene, who wrote about cricket in yesterday's Slate, the chief difference between this game and baseball is that whereas the latter is dominated by pitching, cricket is a batter's game, even in a match overwhelmed by strong bowling. Moreover, a lot of cricket is played in America by Indians, Pakistanis, and West Indians, and for details of teams and grounds, visit Cricinfo. One disadvantage about playing cricket in America is the absence of turf pitches or "wickets." The game is usually played on matting, where the subtleties of a grass wicket are mostly absent. The ground at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where cricket has been played since the 19th century, is an exception. The college is also home to the second-best cricket library in the world, thanks to the bequest of C.C. Morris.

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MARLEY AND THE WAILERS
Bob Marley died 20 years ago. To mark the anniversary, PBS's American Masters is broadcasting a documentary about the singer, though as I seem to recall, Marley was Jamaican. In a flamboyant essay posted on the American Masters Web site, Roger Steffens says: "Without doubt, Bob Marley can now be recognized as the most important figure in 20th century music. It's not just my opinion, but also, judging by all the mainstream accolades hurled Bob's way lately, the feeling of a great many others too. Prediction is the murky province of fools. But in the two decades since Bob Marley has gone, it is clear that he is without question one of the most transcendent figures of the past hundred years. The ripples of his unparalleled achievements radiate outward through the river of his music into an ocean of politics, ethics, fashion, philosophy and religion."

AVOIDING THE TRUTH IN SOUTH AFRICA
R.W. Johnson
, formerly of Magdalen College Oxford, is now South African correspondent of London's Sunday Times. In a review of a new and, in Johnson's view, bad book about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he writes: "[The] TRC to play[ed] fast and loose with real truth ... ignore[d] proper procedures and ... disregard[ed] court decisions and commissions of inquiry that had inconveniently come up with quite different facts and conclusions. Worse, it reheard a murder hearing and, with no fresh evidence, exculpated the murderer; it mistook basic facts, alleging, for example, that an inquiry had found a certain police informer guilty of 18 deaths when, in fact, it had made no such finding; it quoted the exhaustive investigations which had found that the police had not been involved in the Boipatong massacre in 1992 ... and then just reiterated ANC propaganda that the police had been to blame. Of the 20,500 people killed in political violence between 1984 and 1994, the TRC simply made no attempt to explain the deaths of more than 12,000 of thems ... and it virtually ignored the period of the early 1990s when nearly 15,000 of these deaths occurred."

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THE RULES OF RECIPROCITY
If he were alive, the anthropologist Marcel Mauss would doubtlessly have a field day with the furor about gift-giving to presidents and presidential "gifts" to the people. In his famous book, The Gift, Mauss argued that in certain societies giving, not receiving is far more important--something that President Bush seems to understand, but President Clinton did not. Yet as Robert Gordon, a letter writer to the New York Times, explains, it depends on what is being given and to whom. "Has it escaped your notice that all of President Bush's major proposals (tax cuts, Arctic drilling, the missile defense shield) work to the direct financial advantage of his friends, business associates and chief campaign contributors (defense contractors, drillers and ranchers on public lands, the very rich who pay the top income and estate taxes)? These are financial-political payoffs on a large scale. Yes, the pardon of Marc Rich is unseemly, but he is just one unworthy beneficiary of government favoritism. Let's try to keep that in perspective as we prepare to repeat the Gilded Age's giveaway of public lands, subsidies and benefits to corporate interests, since known as 'the Great Barbecue.' "

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DARKNESS IN AUSTRALIA
One of the dubious allegations Patrick Tierney makes in his book Darkness in El Dorado is that Western scientists infected Amazonian Indians with measles. (Click here for Judith Shulevitz's Slate"Culturebox" about the controversy; click here for the article she wrote for last Sunday's New York Times Book Review.) You do not, however, have to head to the jungle to find examples of scientists and drug companies using humans as guinea pigs. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, lately a number of American and European pharmaceutical companies have tested new drugs on Australians without anyone other than doctors knowing about such trials. "A Herald investigation has identified hundreds of pharmaceutical company-sponsored clinical trials across Sydney public hospitals, some of which are paying up to $10,000 per patient. Anyone from babies to the elderly to people in intensive care are enrolled in the drug studies that are designed to improve understanding and prevent sickness, but whose potential side effects are still being researched. Patients who volunteer for the trials are not being told about the financial arrangements and are not always given copies of the consent forms they sign. The fees paid by the drug firms are calculated to compensate the hospital for staff time and effort and to pay for medical procedures associated with the trials, such as CAT scans and blood tests." For more about the scandal, click here