Monday, October 10, 2005

I read it in the "Times" ...

The New York Times is the best newspaper in the country, perhaps the best in the world. I can't think of my life without a daily dose of the Times. I still feel this way, despite the sharp decline in the quality of the writing in this paper over the last twenty years. Recent discoveries and alternatives for me are: The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian (UK) -- all of those periodicals are available at Universal Stationary at 57th Street, New York, N.Y., right by Columbus Circle.

The effect of reading the paper -- and yes, it is the paper -- is always different. Sometimes I read an item that pisses me off for the rest of the day. Also, I may learn something from a reviewer or an op-ed piece that actually changes my understanding of an issue. I have found myself running to purchase tickets to a movie or theater only on the basis of a Times review. I always check the book reviews, for instance, to discover new writers or hot titles.

True, there are occasions when it is painfully obvious that a Times writer is an "asshole" (a journalistic term) or a probable "political appointee," but -- generally -- I am happy with the names that I have come to know. Janet Maslin is great, by far the best book reviewer on staff, who deserves to be called a "critic." Maureen Dowd is snotty in an oh-so-nice way. And I will always read an editorial by Brent Staples. The decline in the writing over recent years is sad and scary because the relationship between many journalists and politicians is suspiciously "cozy."

The newspaper really does welcome disagreement and discussion, even if it tends to print only the letters that come from people who went to school with Times writers, providing us with the full range of opinions among a thin slice of the population. If you are one of the people who happens to matter to the Times, then you can be sure that you really do matter -- but only to the people who really matter of course -- except during occasional bouts of guilt at charges of "social exclusiveness" when the "political correctness" meter shoots up to new heights.

The Times does suffer from weird lapses and idiocies. For years, one music critic underestimated the performances of Placido Domingo, not Anthony Tommasini; one book reviewer's taste is very bizarre. She is eternally hostile to some of my favorite writers (Mailer, Vidal, etc.), mostly because they are men, I guess, or even women whose feminist credentials are subject to challenge; and Times reporting on Cuba has been uneven. The obligatory "political correctness" can be dull, as I say, the middle-brow scientism and suburban-middleclass taste becomes wearisome.

The Times style is always correct, allegedly. Although it is described as only the "good grayness" of the "establishment's voice," by Gore Vidal. Nevertheless, the Times is better-written, better-researched, more accurate and objective, more politically and culturally diverse than any other newspaper that I have seen. It is consistently good, good every day, and sometimes great. On a few occasions, however, it is awful. Others that come close for me are: The Washington Post, The London Times, always The Guardian and Spain's ABC. If a Cuban newspaper were available in the states, I would read it regularly.

If you are a college student, I urge you to read a newspaper every day, preferably The New York Times. I made certain that my child saw the Times every day, that she was welcome to read articles and discuss them with us, as she was growing up.

Today's Times featured an article in the Arts section discussing a large statue of a naked pregnant woman. The model for this work was born without arms and with shortened legs. The art work is found in London's Trafalgar Square. Surrounded by Admiral Nelson and other military commanders, including the military "genius" (irony very much intended!) responsible for suppressing India's Sepoy rebellion in 1857, in a brutal fashion, whose practice was to give a Bible to each of his soldiers. Clearly, they would need that Bible with him in charge.

A controversy has erupted over the appropriateness of this statue of a naked handicapped woman. Is it art? I think so. The statue communicates (to me) a message of hope and heroism, a defense of the dignity of the human condition.

To begin with, any work of art that sparks a controversy is already a success. Most people are too numb and passive these days to react, honestly, to any work of art. Television has killed their art-appreciation brain cells. Shocking people can be healthy. It is a final desperate attempt to awaken them from their dogmatic or aesthetic slumbers. ("'The Reader': A Movie Review.")

Is this statue to be dismissed as yet another example of rampant "political correctness"? Why is it art? Is it politics? Is it both? Does the statue belong in Trafalgar Square?

Great art is always politically controversial and ethically worrisome. I am not sure if this statue is "great" art, but I do think that it is very good art, which belongs on a pedestal -- as does the woman who posed for it, by the way, based on the newspaper's report of her life. The work is a depiction of courage and resourcefulness that is as much of a tribute to the "invinsibility of the British spirit" as the stern-faced Admiral Nelson. It is an image of proud feminine power, dignity and ability, much more than disability. I like it.

I know and love women whose disadvantages and woundings in life are not so literal -- disadvantages which are just as devastating to their life-prospects as the experiences and misfortunes of the woman posing for this work. I think of the courage of such women, especially, as awesome and more than equal to that of any man that I know.

I fear that I sound "politically correct." No one's perfect (though I sometimes achieve a certain mediocrity) ... and this is what I believe. Sorry. I will spare you the trouble of delivering insults or further inserted "errors" today. You can call me "mediocre" or anything else, just don't touch my writing.

The sculpted figure is beautiful and erotic, despite the missing arms and shortened legs. It forces the viewer -- especially the male viewer -- to reconsider his tired notions of female desirability, which may be based on Playboy magazine and on women's Olympic Volleyball competitions, for which there is certainly a lot to be said, or on the television opus The Man Show, to which I am eternally loyal. The statue is a symbol of human courage and endurance. Call British Airways, they have a special this week.

I am mortified to discover that I may be in the company of the "politically correct language police" ("Don't say crippled!"), but I must admit that one cannot refer to the woman who inspired this statue as "limited" in any way. She is indeed "differently abled." This work of art is heroic, haunting, worthy of our attention. I hope the feministas are either pissed off or baffled. I am not interested in your approval, "ladies." Try inserting another "error" in my writings. You'll feel better.

If I start to yell about "saving the whales," take me to the emergency room.

Our British cousins have demonstrated once again that there is a civilization gap. First they come up with Monty Python's Flying Circus and now this. Shakespeare, I am convinced, was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in a home where Yiddish was spoken. We will not allow Brits to take Shakespeare from us. The last example of public art in New York was a bunch of plastic cows, painted in strange colors and placed in different locations throughout the city. They were hideous. Something created by Disney and a Congressional committee on acid, like the writings of Manohla Dargis. ("Manohla Dargis Strikes Again!")

We still have much to learn from the mother country. Read The New York Times.

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