The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Renzo Piano is famous for his museums, for a skyscraper in Sydney, and for Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island off the coast of Japan. Now the Italian will build the new Manhattan headquarters of the New York Times. As the paper said: “Mr. Piano was chosen yesterday in a competition, most unusual for a commercial real estate project, that involved some of the best-known names in architecture: Norman Foster, Cesar Pelli, Frank O. Gehry and David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Although cultural institutions reach outside the New York architectural establishment in search of innovative design, office developers rarely take a chance on outsiders, no matter how renowned.”

Among the new directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN) is Andy Müller-Maguhn. “For the United States,” the {{Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung#2:{B1311FFE-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={C54E7BFD-9F8C-11D4-B997-009027BA226C}}} says, “his election is a worst-case scenario.” Why? As Wired’s Declan McCullagh explains, “[Müller-Maguhn] has been a member of the legendary Chaos Computer Club since 1986 and an officer since 1990. The hacker-affiliated group organizes events such as Defcon-esque lock-picking demonstrations and a massive outdoor camp for 1,400 aspiring geeks.” In the National Post, another new director, Karl Auerbach, an engineer with Cisco Systems, said that the vote reflected dissatisfaction with ICANN’s leadership.

Walter Winchell invented the modern gossip column. He also founded the Cancer Research Fund of the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Foundation and thereby “helped bankroll some of the most far-sighted, esoteric, and ultimately successful cancer research of the last half-century,” as Praxis Post’s Jane Salodof MacNeil explains. “Name a cancer gene or treatment or institution and chances are that at least one key player is a former ‘Damon Runyon’—which is what the fellows call themselves.”

In a review of two books about the death penalty, Thomas Laqueur says it all goes back to the work of an 18th-century Italian thinker named Cesare Beccaria and his Essay on Crimes and Punishments. “The debates today [about the death penalty] are often only thinly veiled rehearsals of arguments—and counter-arguments—[Beccaria] inspired. … Civil government, [he] argued, as did the Founding Fathers, was based on a social contract under whose terms human beings had not ceded their rights in their lives and bodies to the State. Citizens or their representatives might consent to go to war—risking death to defend the State against those who would injure it—but not, Beccaria concluded, to being hanged.”

A Nobel Prize for Literature   has been awarded to Gao Xingjian, a “playwright whose works have not been performed in China since his work The Other Shore was banned in 1986.” (To view the Web cast of the announcement, click here.) According to the New York Times, Xingjian left China a year later and currently lives in Paris. The Age wrote about the playwright in August: “In 1982, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, a diagnosis that was later proved mistaken. The following year, the Communist Party criticized Gao’s works as ‘spiritual pollution’. The double shock of public condemnation and the experience of confronting his own mortality inspired him to embark on a journey that would take him five months and 15,000 kilometers into the heart of China, and which resulted in the epic Soul Mountain.” To visit the Nobel e-Museum, click here.

In a review of Dennis Overbye’s Einstein in Love, Jim Holt writes that “it was not love in bloom, but love gone bad that seemed to bring out Einstein’s real greatness. In the sticky circumstances of marital dissolution, he wrote, science ‘lifts me impersonally, and without railing and wailing, from the vale of tears into peaceful spheres.’ “Michael Fowler says that Einstein’s “private life is not a pretty one. … Albert once remarked that ‘the upper half plans and thinks, while the lower half determines our fate.’ It seems he made little effort to restrain the lower half.”

A PAINTER IN THE WHITE HOUSE? The artistic tastes of presidential candidates may not determine the outcome of an election, though they say something about character. Last month, Al Gore said that Stendhal’s The Red and the Black was his favorite novel. Now, in ARTnews, he talks about his favorite painters. “Van Gogh, Vermeer, Chuck Close, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Red Grooms, and Mary Cassatt. … You know, Red Grooms is a Tennessean!” But his absolute fave is van Gogh—“because of the raw emotion that just leaps off the canvas at you.” Gore likes to paint, and as Kirby Talleyexplains, “his favorite medium [is] watercolor.” “I also work in tempera,” Gore says. “It’s very relaxing. I don’t have as much time to paint as I would like, and no time at the moment.”

A QUESTION OF ALLEGIANCE Like Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra was sympathetic to left-wing causes in the 1940s, but in the McCarthy era he changed sides. As a book about the actor and singer’s Cold War, The Sinatra Files, reveals, Sinatra informed Hoover’s FBI about suspected Communists in Hollywood. But before he changed his mind, he was an advocate of toleration. Jon Weiner says that he went one step further than most. Sinatra “published an open letter to Henry Wallace in the New Republic, urging him to run for president to ‘take up the fight we like to think of as ours—the fight for tolerance, which is the basis of any fight for peace.’ His support for Wallace in 1948 was equated by the FBI with Communist sympathies.”

Woman are more likely than men to want to outlaw offensive images, and as Mary Kenny writes in Index on Censorship, “have never much liked pornography and have, historically, been in the forefront of campaigns to censor or control sexually explicit or violent material. There are some women who do not object to pornography; there are some women who may enjoy it. … There are female libertarians who hold that liberty means also accepting the dross and the squalid. But when all is said and done, women have always been active in objecting to the free circulation of sexually explicit words and images, and have been most vocal in finding such material offensive.”

Writing about Peter Ackroyd’s new “biography” of London, James Davidson says that a “traveler to Georgian London remarked that if towns were to be called by the first words that greeted a visitor, London would come to be known as ‘Damn it!’ ” Whether the American Robert R. Kiley, who restored New York’s subways in the 1980s and who has been chosen by the new mayor of London Ken Livingstone to revamp one of the worst subway systems in Europe, will come to the same conclusion remains to be seen. The state of London traffic is even worse than the condition of public transportation. In an article published by Granta last year (not on the Web), Ian Parker wrote about the ghastliness of London traffic and the aggressive person known as the London driver, whose greatest fear is of “losing a race. The race is with an imaginary car that set off from the same place at the same time, but then did not get stuck behind [a] bus, did not miss the lights, did not make that unforgivable lane error on Commerical Road. This car is way ahead.”

“The ads in Soldier of Fortune,” Peter Carlson writes, “are even more delightfully wacky than the articles, if such a thing is possible. There are ads for guns and combat knives and ammo—’Cheaper Than Dirt!’—and ads for books with such titles as ‘Surviving Doomsday: A Practical Guide’ and ‘Get Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks.’ ” Other military-minded publications and links on the Web include, Armed Forces Journal International, Defense News, the Department of Defense, and Signal.

What should be done with the land poisoned by Pittsburgh’s steel mills? Maybe the same thing the Germans have done with the Ruhr Valley. In Metropolis, Matt Steinglass writes about an inspired German plan to convert the former industrial landscape into a park: “Peter Latz won the design competition [in 1989], and over the next 10 years, the park he and his colleagues created would become a seminal piece in the history of modern landscape architecture.” To visit Latz’s Web site, click here.

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF ANTHROPOLOGY Patrick Tierney’s widely discussed but still to be published book, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, is unlikely to be the last attack on unscrupulous anthropologists. In his book, Tierney says that an American anthropologist named Napoleon Chagnon inflicted disease and much more upon the Yanomami, an indigenous people of Venezuela. Last week, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, told Inside how Tierney had tried to secure an interview with the disgraceful Chagnon (subscription required). In the New York Press, Alexander Cockburn writes about the appalling treatment of the Yurok Indians in Northern California. In 1999, Peter Beinart (now editor of the New Republic) wrote about the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and their besieged anthropologists. “Within the Bureau,” Beinart wrote, “branch staffers are seen as an academic elite. … Their work is governed by a concept—tribe—that most academics view as outdated or worse. And their passion for clear-cut, objective judgments about political and social organization is not shared by a discipline—anthropology—that has been questioning such notions for decades.”

SCREEN IDOL Photographs of Marilyn Monroe “fetch high prices,” writes David Kirby. “Only a handful of images by photographers are normally offered on the market each year.” The Estate of Marilyn Monroe guards against the unauthorized commercial or promotional use of the actress’s image. (For their license agreement, click here.) Andrew O’Hagan wrote about the auction of Monroe relics last year. The sale, he said, “takes Warhol’s deification of celebrity past its absurdly logical conclusion: why pay more for a representation of Marilyn Monroe, even an Abstract Expressionist one like De Kooning’s, or a mass-produced one like Warhol’s, when, for a not dissimilar price, you can own a little something of Marilyn herself?”

Two well-known print magazines, the New Republic and the Spectator, have redesigned their Web sites. Both publications now give greater prominence to the arts, which, for the compiler of this page, is welcome news. To read James Wood’s essay on Kazuo Ishiguro, click here. To read Vladimir Nabokov’s article on the perils of translation (“Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration.”) click here. The skull of Richard Steele, one of the founders of the Spectator—the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language—was recently discovered in a lead box in a Welsh church.

The New Scientist and the Scientific American both have stories about the enormous waves that might overwhelm the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The NS reports on the findings of Simon Day, who “has discovered that a huge chunk of La Palma, the most volcanically active island in the Canaries, is now unstable. ‘If the flank of the volcano slides into the ocean, the mass of moving rock will push the water in front of it, creating a tsunami wave far larger than any seen in history,’ says Day. ‘The wave would then spread out across the Atlantic at the speed of a jet airliner until it strikes coastal areas all around the North Atlantic.’ ” Sarah Simpson, writing in SA, is concerned about the consequences of an underwater landslide on a “slope between the shallow continental shelf and the deep sea, off the coasts of North Carolina and New Jersey. Enormous cracks northeast of Cape Hatteras could be an underwater landslide in the making. … Mud suddenly breaking loose and tearing downslope could displace enough water to swamp the nearby coastline with tsunami waves some five meters (15 feet) high.”

In a review of Pathological Gambling: The Making of a Medical Problem by Brian Castellani, the New England Journal of Medicine says that compulsive gambling “is currently one of the fastest-growing mental health problems in [this part] of the world.” The condition affects roughly 3 million Americans. One of the greatest observers of modern gambling habits was the sociologist Erving Goffman. In an article published by Reason in 1997, Robert Detlefsen wrote, “Why people gamble has long fascinated social scientists, and there is a wealth of research on the matter, including a famous study by eminent sociologist Erving Goffman. In the 1960s, Goffman worked as a blackjack dealer and croupier in Las Vegas and concluded that gambling was a surrogate for the risk taking that has been removed from daily life courtesy of the modern, bureaucratic state.”

The Whitney Museum’s exhibition of the photography of Edward Steichen  opened yesterday. Steichen, the Whitney’s catalog says, “was one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century. A painter and pioneering pictorialist photographer at the turn of the last century, [he] later became chief photographer for Condé Nast Publications.” In 1947, Steichen was appointed head of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, a post he held until 1962. To view some of his photographs, click here. For further biographical material, click here. For the New York Times review of the exhibition, click here.

Diana Brooks, former head of Sotheby’s, pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that she had colluded with Christie’s to fix the market price for works of art. Robert Lacey, who has written a history of Sotheby’s, told ABC News that “Sotheby’s and Christie’s are all about money. They are dealing with art, history and beautiful things. But at the end of the day, people go to Sotheby’s and Christie’s because they believe they can get the best price from them.”

DELIGHTS OF THE MIND“I tried all kinds of things. I was desperate. … I was always practicing my obsession. … The only way to solve such a thing is patience!” So says Richard Feynman in one of the finest books about the scientific method ever written (or told to someone, as Feynman did in this case), Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character. (Click here to buy it.) No one ever accused Feynman of spying, even if he famously cracked the safes at Los Alamos in the 1940s, when the contents were considerably more “sensitive” than they are today, just to prove that he could. Shortly after the book’s publication (click here to read a review) Feynman was asked to join a congressional inquiry into the 1987 Challenger disaster. What next for Wen Ho Lee?