Kurt Andersen and Nora Ephron

Life as Moebius Strip
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 13 1999 12:00 PM

Kurt Andersen and Nora Ephron

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Dear Nora:

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I didn't watch the Open, if by "Open" you mean this big tennis thing in Queens; I don't watch sports, except the very occasional Knicks playoff or World Series Games 4, 5, 6, or 7.

I did watch some of the Emmys, although not as much of it as my youngest daughter, Lucy, who at 9 is as deeply and weirdly interested in celebrotainment (e.g., Emmy Awards shows, the Oscars, Entertainment Weekly) as I was at her age. I got over it, more or less, so trust that she will, too. The conventional wisdom is correct: The Sopranos deserved to win pretty much every award, and the fact that it got only two is a travesty, to the degree that Emmy injustice can be a travesty. Since you are a housemate of the world's great Mafia chronicler, I've wondered what you think of the show.

Also, Emmys-wise: I adore Jenna Elfman. Why do most of the Hollywood-actor Scientologists seem so appealing? Maybe we should convert.

The fundamental problem with the Emmys qua Emmys (aside from the fact, as I learned from the Times this morning, that the voters are volunteers, disproportionately elderly, and unemployed) is that most shows on television are series--and so the same shows and writers and actors-playing-the-same-characters get Emmys year after year. This makes for bad ritual. Of course, this is also the problem with the National Magazine Awards lunch, which has the additional problem of being, along with the White House Correspondents Dinner, the most depressingly Soviet-like assembly I have ever attended.

Do you find the ongoing anti-mosquito spraying of New York City with malathion, neighborhood by neighborhood, from trucks and from the air, as charmingly quaint as I do? It seems like something Fiorello La Guardia would have ordered done, and Weegee documented.

Speaking of charmingly quaint, and speaking of (literally) Soviet things, how about Melita Norwood, the 87-year-old KGB asset in England? "I would do the same thing again," she said, as people outside her house shouted "Traitor! Traitor!" And triply quaint--unapologetic pro-Soviet communism, little old English lady with a coffee-filter first name photographed smelling her flowers, righteous anti-granny indignation about Cold War politics. And everyone concerned, on both sides, acting more or less honorably ... so unlike, say, the Bill and Monica thing, where everyone concerned, on both sides, acted more or less dishonorably. (The same new book that exposes Melita, The Mitrokhin Archive, says that the KGB manufactured a forged letter from Oswald to Howard Hunt at the CIA before November 22, and leaked it to American conspiracy theorists in the '70s. Although I'm sure the conspiracists would tell me that this new story is just new CIA disinformation.)

James Salter in the Times on the decline of civilization and the rise of pop culture: Fine, I wish people read books more, too, but didn't it read like a parody of a windy, pretentious old fogey? "When I wrote movies ... thinking of Graham Greene and John Steinbeck, who were writers as well as film writers ..."

And finally, just to nip at the hand that's feeding us, the day's Microsoft antitrust trial story: How perfectly, postmodernistically apt that e-mails sent by Microsoft executives to other Microsoft executives during the trial (back on November 22, in fact) are now being introduced into evidence at the same trial. One more way in which life has become a Moebius strip.

Over to you.
Kurt

Kurt Andersen was architecture critic for Time, co-founder of Spy, and editor of New York magazine. He now writes for The New Yorker, and his best-selling first novel, Turn of the Century, was published in May (click here to buy it). Nora Ephron is a screenwriter and director. Her films include Sleepless in Seattle, Michael and, most recently, You’ve Got Mail.

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