The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

April 6 2001 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


Where will you live when you get old? The nature of retirement facilities in America is changing to match older citizens' developing needs—and growing numbers. Designers are looking for plans that stress activity and interaction—and are eschewing colonial-style furniture. Baby-boomers will become seniors virtually in one fell swoop. According to Hubble Smith in the Las Vegas Review Journal, "the population of people 55 to 69 will increase by more than 6 million in the next five years," and "[d]emand for new active adult housing is expected to rise to 700,000 units in 2002, compared with 400,000 unites in 1999." (Las Vegas did not make it onto the list of "hip" places to live when you're aged.) Anne Eisenberg in the New York Times profiles a new kind of "smart house" for the elderly that uses tracking-type devices to detect changes in rate of motion (which might signal an emergency) and can also prompt old folks to remember indispensables like taking pills or even eating or drinking water. Though cameras are used, designers stress that there is no "Big Brother" feeling to the homes. Dr. Irfan A. Essa, a developer of the tracking systems, insists, "our intention isn't to spy."—Sian Gibby


The relations between humans and animals are manifold and complex. We have been sharing the planet for so long they could hardly be otherwise. In the 21st century we find ourselves more inextricably linked than ever. On one hand, we are constantly discovering new connections. For example, according to a piece by {{Frank Shirrmacher#2:{B1312000-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&sub={05125C1D-0263-11D5-A3B3-009027BA22E4}&doc={263CF17E-3A21-11D4-B98C-009027BA226C}&width=1024&height=740&agt=explorer&ver=4&svr=4}} from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it seems possible that fruit flies share not only our liking of sweet fruits, but also possibly our tendency toward depression. Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Ray Moseley reports from Britain that we humans find our misery almost symbiotically bonded to that of hoofed animals, as foot-and-mouth continues to ravage the lives of humans in the tourism industry there. And in more intimate spheres, some writers have resurrected, inexplicably, the notion of bestiality. Peter Singer writes an article putting forward the case for; Slate's Timothy Noah takes a bewildered look at the issue, and William Saletan examines the logic of bestiality and finds it lacking.—Sian Gibby


Now that street urchins have apparently vanished and the gardens of New York's City Hall are spick and span, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has turned his tastes and attention to the city's publicly funded museums. In a move that will have his critics comparing him to a Counter-Reformation pope or even Sen. Jesse Helms, Giulaini has proposed that the city's Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission should let the mayor know if any art show is, in their view, indecent. As reported by the New York Times, Giuliani said: "This is the perfect place to accomplish a mission to work out guidelines that would be sensible ones and fair ones … for what guidelines should exist in terms of should those programs defame, destroy or attack religions, ethnic groups [or racial groups]." This new campaign for decency is chiefly a response to two art shows held at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which both offended the mayor. As Robin Cembalest, editor of ArtNews, argues, the mayor's attempts at silencing art he doesn't care for have, on more than one occasion, backfired. As for the decency movement, as Cembalest writes, "the whole thing's enough to convince artists to send 'offensive' art directly to City Hall. They'd better hurry up—Giuliani's leaving office soon."


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."


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.


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 Judi 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.


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."


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."


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.


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.' "


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.

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.


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."


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.


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."


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."


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.