The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

March 31 2001 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

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GOING IT ALONE
News that Ellen Fein, author of a guide to secure a perfect marriage titled The Rules, will separate from her husband has led to much Schadenfreude. Katie Roiphe, however, warns against overkill. "It's too easy to dismiss The Rules, to mock them for their earnestness and deplore them for their sexist, condescending attitude towards women. Because this silly paper-back, with pink ribbons all over its cover, obviously captured the imagination of millions of women all over the world. Five years after it first came out, I have noticed The Rules on all sorts of intelligent people's bookshelves, tucked away between The Brothers Karamazov and Zadie Smith. I have noticed smart women buying it and following its ethos." Writing about some recent books on marriage in The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead concludes "that marriage does not provide happiness (though it can often provide an environment in which to experience happiness), and that it is not an exhilarating private journey of self-discovery but a mode of living in the social world." Last year, Jane Smiley wrote about the rules of divorce. "The choice of staying or leaving," she said, "presented itself to me as a choice between suicide and mass murder."

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NEW YORK WORLD
When will an editor publish the collected articles of George Gurley? Over the last few years, the New York Observer's journalist has chronicled the absurdity of New York money culture as well as anyone. This week, Gurley writes about Lee Munson, a young stockbroker of considerable self-aggrandizement and much exaggeration, who seems to believe that every other word should begin with "f" and end with "k," with stops at "u" and "c" in between, and occasionally adding "ing" for emphasis. What makes Gurley's articles entertaining is that he allows his subject to speak for themselves rather than dwelling on his reaction to the man or woman sitting before of him. For other Gurley articles, click here, here, here, and here.

LIFE ON TV
What with all the British and wildlife programming on public TV, it's been said there's little else on PBS other than British people talking, animals having sex, animals talking, British people having sex, and Washington Week in Review. Now that's all changed; not because PBS is so different, or that animals have sex with British people on American public TV, but because there's another outlet for British TV, namely BBC America. The British presence does not stop there, of course; some reality shows and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? are British imports. Beginning in April, NBC will broadcast a wildly popular British game show, The Weakest Link, where a matronly host named Anne Robinson (somewhere between the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland and a Judy Dench portrayal of "M" in a James Bond movie) insults her contestants for their lack of intelligence and bids the many losers an executioner's farewell. If the conceit about Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? (an illusionary one, of course) is that you, too, can get rich, then the defining theme of The Weakest Link is about who is willing to look an idiot in public. (Robinson, who will also host the U.S. version, becomes the first Briton to host a game show on network television.) In Britain, there's no shortage of people willing to risk such humiliation. (Critics such as Geoffrey Wheatcroft believe that shows such as The Weakest Link illustrate their point that the BBC should no longer receive public funding.) Whether Americans will prove as willing to be tossed and shaken remains to be seen.

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OUT OF THIS WORLD
It can but be a matter of a time before the only acceptable form of attire at the Oscar ceremony is drag—what else can possibly be new?—although as Jan Moir pointed out in the Telegraph, Elizabeth Hurley, always ahead of the curve, successfully looked like a man in a woman's dress at this year's Oscars. Some might disagree: Surely Pamela Anderson, who proved that women are as likely to come from Mars as from Venus. (For photographs and streaming video from the red carpet, turn to the Los Angeles Times or E! Online.) Martians and drag queens aside, the notices for this year's Oscars attire were generally poor, even if several actors did their best. As Ginia Bellafante writes:"As much as Hollywood likes to display a penchant for packaged refinement on Oscar night, it can't help itself in the presence of raunchy bad taste. Once Ms. Anderson arrived looking as if she'd just been arraigned for prostitution on an episode of 'The Dukes of Hazzard,' it was easy to forget about the studied exquisiteness of Julia Roberts in her white-trimmed vintage Valentino, or the elegance of Ashley Judd in her silver Armani, or even the welcome code-breaking chic of Sarah Jessica Parker in her black Calvin Klein minidress."

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FREE SCIENCE?
Should scientific research be made freely available on the Web? According to former director of the National Institutes of Health Harold E. Varmus and various other scholars, yes it should, and they present their case in the current issue of Science. As Florence Olsen reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the group is "urging a boycott of scientific and scholarly journals that refuse to make articles accessible online—free—soon after their publication. The scholars also are making a demand that some publishers say is even more challenging: that the publishers place their content in independent repositories on the Web six months after a journal issue has appeared in print." But as the New Scientist reports, the editors of Science"are more equivocal about the idea. 'There's nothing wrong with the idea broadly stated,' says Donald Kennedy, the editor. … '[F]or us, the economics are important,' he says. He points out that Science is run by the American Association for the Association of Science and earns the revenue to keep it going through subscriptions and advertising. These sources could dry up, he fears, if it ceded control of its archives to a third party."

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LAND FILL
Meat smuggled from the Far East is the likely source for the British foot-and-mouth epidemic, but the practice of feeding hogs with scraps from the tables of British schools and the remains of airplane meals (so-called pigs swill) is considered the cause of the initial infection of British livestock. The burial of 200,000 sheep has begun in northwestern England. Some of the animals were infected with foot-and-mouth disease; others were part of a cull intended to prevent the spread of the virus. (For footage of the burial, tune in to the BBC, ITN, or Channel 4 News; precautions taken by U.S. authorities are discussed by the New York Times as is cattle rustling in the Dakotas.) More is at stake than the destruction of a viciously contagious disease, as Andrew O'Hagan explains in an extensive article published by the London Review. (The full article appears in serial form on the Guardian's Web site.) Foot-and-mouth may signal the end of the farmer's life for a country accustomed to the idea of rearing animals, plowing fields, and scattering corn. What, then, will replace the farmer and his or her fields? Will large tracts of land revert to scrub wood and marsh, the preferred terrain of wild animals such as deer, feral pigs, stoats, weasels, and foxes? Perhaps the foxes that stalk the streets, private gardens, and public parks of London can be encouraged to return to their "natural" habitat, especially if fox hunting is to be made illegal. Monday in the House of Lords, the British peerage, once renowned for its land holdings and sporting slaughter of birds and beasts, voted against a hunting ban. If Britain is to become a wooded and marshy wilderness, infested with game, perhaps such a hunting ban is premature and impractical. Deer and wild boar are both susceptible to foot-and-mouth, and as customs officials inform passengers on Eurostar trains (click on "Service Updates"), hunting trophies (deer antlers, boars' heads, etc.) cannot be taken to Europe for fear that they, too, may spread the disease.

THE PERFECT FIASCO
While Vicki Huddleston, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, resolves an argument over her prize-winning Afghan (the dog was banned from entering this year's Cuban dog show, then reinstated), various members of the Kennedy administration, old CIA hands, and five members of the guerrilla brigade that sought to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961 have met their Cuban adversaries to discuss the Bay of Pigs. Tomorrow, the group heads to the ill-chosen landing site of the CIA-backed invasion—a scrappy and narrow beach, Playa Hiron, that borders an alligator- and snake-infested swamp, the Zapata. In the course of the talks, and contrary to the post mortem conducted by the Inspector General of the CIA, the Cubans merely say that the best side won. As the Washington Post reports, "U.S. historians have long concluded that the invading force failed for two key reasons: the CIA's bungled planning and Kennedy's refusal to provide air support. Today, Cuban officials insisted there was another reason: The Cuban military was well-trained, effective and loyal. The invaders didn't lose, they said, the Cubans won." The meeting is a first for the members of Brigade 2506, whose last journey to Cuba proved so disastrous. As Tim Weiner writes in the New York Times: "In 1961, 'we disembarked as Cubans, as men who loved our country,' said Alfredo Durán, a former president of the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association, who was expelled by the group for his decision to return to Cuba. He came back, he said, to learn, to share his thoughts, to make sure that 'never again will Cubans take arms against Cubans.' "

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THE FLAT-FACE REVELATIONS
In this week's New Yorker, John Seabrook searches for his cousins and the remains of his ancestors and assesses the impact of both the laboratory and the Internet on genealogy. In the latest issue of Nature, Dr. Maeve Leakey of Kenya's National Musuems introduces Flat Faced Man—Kenyanthropus platyops. The significance of Leaky's discovery is immense. As the Telegraph explains: "Until a few years ago only three genuses of hominin—species more closely related to humans than chimps—were known to anthropologists. One, Australopithecus, was living between four and three million years ago. Humans are thought to have evolved from an early member of Australopithecus afarensis, the species made famous by the fossil Lucy, who, it now seems, may have been sharing the woods and grass plains of prehistoric Africa with a rival." Or, as the New York Times, puts it: "[T]he family tree, once drawn with a trunk straight and true, is beginning to look more like a bush, with a tangle of branches of uncertain relationship leading in many directions." According to the Los Angeles Times, "the find is further evidence that humanity emerged from an evolutionary maze of false starts, dead-ends and competing adaptations to its African homeland. … 'This is both a very welcome and at the same time extraordinarily intriguing fossil find,' said Donald Johanson of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, who discovered the Lucy fossils in 1974." Leakey, as the Washington Post reminds its readers, "is the wife of Richard E. Leakey and daughter-in-law of Louis and Mary Leakey, a family renowned for its anthropological work in East Africa." Whether John Seabrooke is related to Lucy or to Flat Face will be ascertained shortly.

EAST VERSUS WEST?
In the summer of 1995, Michael Lind told readers of the New Republic about the supremacy of the South in American politics (though some time later Lars-Erik Nelson dismissed such a notion in the New York Review of Books, arguing there was rather more of the North in the South than Lind had imagined). Close watchers of the magazine wondered whether Lind's article reflected the bifurcated political scene at the publication itself. The New Republic is famously a magazine of two halves—a political front and a literary-political rear. Was Lind's article, which appeared firmly in the front section, meant in some way to address the question of who ruled supreme at the magazine—south or north, front or rear, editor Andrew Sullivan or literary editor Leon Weiseltier? Now appearing on the TNR's Web site is an article by editor Peter Beinart (charged with marshalling the front half), who argues that American political debate can be defined as Good West versus Bad East. In the latest issue of the magazine, however, and at the beginning of a long article about citizenship by Alan Wolfe, the back half expresses its own views about the Good West. "From an economic standpoint," Wolfe writes, "as well as a moral standpoint, there can be few more unattractive sights than apathetic Californians born on one side of the border turning their backs on hard-working Mexicans born on the other side." Let's hope war hasn't broken out on 19th Street all over again.

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FOREIGN EXCHANGE
On March 9, the Guardian published an article by Luke Harding on how the Indian city of Bangalore has become the phone bank center of the world. "With the industry doubling in size every couple of months, India is well on the way to becoming the call center capital of the world—with a turnover, analysts predict, of $3.7bn by 2008." In today's New York Times, Mark Landler has written about much the same subject, though he uses American, not British examples. " 'India is on its way to being the back office for the world,' said Shriram Ramdas, one of the founders of Bangalore Labs, which manages Web sites and other information networks for companies from a futuristic office in the International Tech Park on the outskirts of Bangalore. "But call centers are only the low end of a much larger industry of Indian software developers, transcribers, accountants, Web site designers and animation artists. … By 2008, such assignments will generate 800,000 new jobs and $17 billion in revenue for India, according to the consultants McKinsey & Company."

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FAREWELL TO NEW YORK
The population of New York City, widely discussed in editorials and magazines, has lost Luc Sante to the charms of Upstate. In the current issue of Metropolis the former Slate contributor and the author of Lowlife explains why he has left the city for the hill. "The city is riding a high roller at the moment. It's a seller's market and filled to capacity. For all of that, it's no boomtown—not anymore. Prices are excessive, but not too much else is. The appetite for novelty has given way to a craving for security. Hedonism and licentiousness have been banished by official order. … It costs so much to live in New York that few people have the time or energy to do much besides work, absorb various media, and possibly mate. The city's population—always self-consciously exclusive even in its times of penury—is these days being vetted by the moral equivalent of nightclub bouncers who turn away anyone not either born lucky or seriously committed to collecting dollars. … But sooner or later the city will half-rise from its crouch, stick out a back leg, and get to scratching its current itch. And at that point all bets, as ever, will be off." Read Luc Sante's contributions to Slate on art and photography.

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FROM LEBANON TO VIENNA
Edward Said, who was attacked by his political and intellectual enemies for throwing a stone at an abandoned Israeli guard house last September and whose lecture at Vienna's Freud Institute and Museum has been canceled, replies to his critics in Al-Ahram Weekly. In his article, Said explains what happened in southern Lebanon last summer. "During our 10-minute stop I was photographed there without my knowledge pitching a tiny pebble in competition with some of the younger men present, none of whom of course had any particular target in sight. The area was empty for miles and miles. Two days later my picture appeared in newspapers in Israel and all over the West. I was described as a rock-throwing terrorist, a man of violence, and so on and on, in the familiar chorus of defamation and falsehood known to anyone who has incurred the hostility of Zionist propaganda."

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POLISH CRIMES
A few weeks ago, The New Yorker published an extract from Jan Gross' forthcoming book about the massacre of Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne, Neighbors. (The magazine posted an interview with Gross on its Web site.) The book has provoked a public outcry in Poland (and elsewhere) because the perpetrators of the 1941 massacre were Poles, not Germans. Adam Michnik writes about Gross' book in the New York Times: "I don't believe in collective guilt or collective responsibility or any other responsibility except the moral one. And therefore I ponder what exactly is my individual responsibility and my own guilt. Certainly I cannot be responsible for that crowd of murderers who set the barn in Jedwabne on fire. Similarly, today's citizens of Jedwabne cannot be blamed for that crime. When I hear a call to admit my Polish guilt, I feel hurt the same way the citizens of today's Jedwabne feel when they are interrogated by reporters from around the world. But when I hear that Mr. Gross's book, which revealed the truth about the crime, is a lie that was concocted by the international Jewish conspiracy against Poland, that is when I feel guilty."

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CROP CIRCLE
Aventis CropScience
is the manufacturer of the genetically modified corn called StarLink. As the Washington Post reports, although StarLink is not intended for human consumption, the corn has found its way into the food supply and led to allergic reactions in certain people. As the Post says, "allergic reactions have been viewed for years as the primary threat to human health posed by genetically engineered foods, which typically have proteins from other organisms spliced into them for various reasons. But the health complaints about StarLink are the first lodged by consumers against an engineered food." President Bush wants to appoint Professor John Graham of Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs—the executive office that will, among other things, assess the risks of genetically modified food. As the Boston Globe points out, however, the appointment will be opposed. Consumer advocate groups claim Graham's credentials are tainted because his Harvard center has accepted large sums of money from companies, such as Monsanto, that would like to see their genetically modified food stuffs approved by the federal government.

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RAISING THE DEAD
The remains of famed atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who vanished in 1995, were found at a Texas ranch at the end of January. The formal identification of the body was made yesterday. David Waters, who once worked as an office manager for O'Hair's American Atheists organization, is the man believed to have planned the kidnappings and murders of O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray, and her granddaughter, Robin Murray. As the New York Times explains, he "pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy charges and agreed to lead investigators to the bodies, officials said. As part of his plea bargain, Mr. Waters will reportedly get immunity for his role in the killings but receive a 20-year sentence for the conspiracy charges." The mystery of O'Hair's disappearence is therefore over, but as the Austin American-Statesman reports, the story is not at an end: "'There's a small war going on over who gets the body,' U.S. Attorney Bill Blagg said. 'That will be decided by the Texas courts.' O'Hair's only surviving relative, son William Murray, wants to bury his family in what he promises will be a private, nonreligious ceremony with no prayers. … But Murray, a Christian evangelist, was a harsh disappointment to his mother, and fellow atheists will make their own claims to the bodies. 'He doesn't deserve the remains,' said Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, which O'Hair founded in Austin." In 1965, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor and argued that prayer was not an essential part of the American classroom, O'Hair was asked by Playboy to explain her atheism. "Because religion is a crutch, and only the crippled need crutches. … Atheism is a very positive affirmation of man's ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. … It's about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: 'Well, we are men. Let's start acting like it.' "

AGAINST CRITICISM
In the introduction to his forthcoming book, The War Against Cliché—Essays and Reviews, 1971-2000, Martin Amis says that today's critics do not even pretend to be interested in literature. "Literary criticism, now almost entirely confined to the universities, thus moves against talent by moving against the canon. Academic preferment will not come from a respectful study of Wordsworth's poetics; it will come from a challenging study of his politics—his attitude to the poor, say, or his unconscious 'valorisation' of Napoleon; and it will come still faster if you ignore Wordsworth and elevate some (justly) neglected contemporary, by which process the canon may be quietly and steadily sapped. A brief consultation of the Internet will show that meanwhile, at the other end of the business, everyone has become a literary critic—or at least a book-reviewer."

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THE PUSUIT OF IRVING
British publisher Heinemann
has dropped a book about David Irving and the failed libel case he pursued against the American academic Deborah Lipstadt (she had described Irving as a Holocaust denier). As the Guardian reports: "The decision apparently sprang from fears that publication might provoke further libel action from David Irving, despite his humiliating defeat last July in a libel action which cost the publisher contesting it, Penguin Books, more than £2m in legal costs, which are still unpaid." Irving gloats about the decision on his Web site. DD Guttenplan's book about the Irving trial, The Holocaust on Trial, will appear in May. (To read a Slate"Dialogue" on the trial, click here.)

THE KILLING FIELDS
The onward march of foot-and-mouth disease continues across Europe. So does the slaughter  of livestock.(Outbreaks of the virus have has also been detected in Argentina, Colombia, and Mongolia .) Writing in London's Evening Standard, Brian Sewell questions the procedures chosen to eradicate foot-and-mouth. "For a century the disease has been cut off by slaughter and we have no statistics by which to measure the potential economic loss; moreover, the current breeding of all farm animals for milk, meat or other specific purpose means that they are significantly different from those of even the recent past and we have no notion how they may respond to the virus or what level of immunity they may develop.  … This outbreak … may bring us to our senses, may compel us to reconsider every complacent aspect of our agriculture and our treatment of the rural landscape and environment, the horrors of this holocaust perhaps at last convincing us that we have a moral responsibility of sorts for the animals we eat."

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WHO WAS ON THE STREETS FIRST?
According to Slate Book Clubber Christopher Caldwell, Rick Perlstein's study of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, Before the Storm, "sees the Goldwater debacle as a lost battle in a won war. … Other historians have noted that democracy went into the streets in the 1960's, but Mr. Perlstein is the first to suggest that Republicans got there first. This was not simply a triumph of reactionaries. By the time of Goldwater's Presidential run, the conservative movement had been wrested from the control of the John Birch Society and delivered to the young activists around William F. Buckley Jr., who sought [Perlstein says] 'to articulate a position on world affairs which a conservative candidate can adhere to without fear of intellectual embarrassment or political surrealism.' "