Tuesday's magazine column, in discussing an interview with Soviet expert Murray Feshbach, implied that he believes one-third of the children in the U.S.S.R. suffer from rickets. In fact, the interview with Feshbach describes the ailment only as "widespread," citing a Soviet study conducted in large Russian cities during the mid-1970s which found that 37.1 percent of deceased infants suffered from aggravated rickets
Better Red than dead? By the time you're through listening to Murray Feshbach in The Atlantic, you'll wonder: What's the difference?
What Connie was to George Smiley, Feshbach is to veteran Russia-watchers--an obscure but indispensable source of data on the info-stingy Soviet Union. And Cullen Murphy's profile of the Georgetown don and former Census Bureau analyst is doubly absorbing. First for its depiction of Feshbach, an eccentric obsessive dieter ("yesterday I could only have skim milk and bananas") whose genius is to "burrow in obscure and unlikely places," coupling fact to elusive fact, constructing studies that shock even the Soviets.
And second for Feshbach's portrait of the U.S.S.R. as a vast Orcus of decay: a society in which abortion is the principal form of birth control (the average woman has four or five), one out of five urban families shares housing with another, the death rate is 10.3 per thousand ("unprecedented in a developed nation"), alcohol poisoning kills 100 times as many people as in America and "the tax on vodka generates revenues equivalent to the official defense budget." In which a third of the children have rickets; infant mortality is three times the U.S. rate and measles 27 times as frequent. Where there are no public phone books; only 20 percent of high school students get to full-time college; bachelors pay a punitive surtax of 7 percent on income and women who bear 10 or more children are awarded "Mother-Heroine" medals. None of which you'll learn from Moscow: "I used to admire the Soviets," Feshbach says, "they could write a book of 500 pages and not say a single thing."
Also from our Know-Your-Bears File: The Feb. 7 New Republic. Edward Jay Epstein compares press accounts of Yuri Andropov after the Soviet leader's accession last fall and finds some mighty mortifying inconsistencies. Where was he born? Near the Finnish border, said The Washington Post; The New York Times put him in the southern Ukraine; Time opted for the northern Caucasus. "His birthplace was thus narrowed down," says Epstein, "to an area stretching from Finland to Iran." After debunking a dozen more (including Andropov's purported ardor for Chubby Checker and "Valley of the Dolls"), Epstein concludes that "the humbler--and more honest--alternative is to admit that virtually nothing is known about this man."
* Got some greenish bread mold? Scrape it into a tub of coagulating ewe's milk, plop the glop in a cave for a few months and then eat it. Revolting? It's roquefort, the full pedigree of which is lovingly detailed in Smithsonian. And don't miss the comprehensive preview of the Quad, the planned underground museum--a sort of Epcot for aesthetes--that will house the new Sackler Oriental collection, the Museum of African Art and more.
* Gimme Welter: That incessant scrunching noise you keep hearing to the north is William F. Buckley Jr. attempting to squeeze his ego between the covers of The New Yorker. The behemoth first half of his two-part personal journal makes Proust look positively laconic. Buckley maunders along like Macaulay on Quaaludes about his house, limo, kids and friends, gloating and quoting his snappiest ripostes . . . and yet you can't put the damn thing down! Odd anecdotes bob up in the verbal spew (e.g., the time a typo in his column made it seem as if Pat Boone and his wife were wild about porno movies), the rhythm becomes hypnotic and . . . is there such a thing as smug-o-lepsy?
* Esquire has one of its best issues in recent memory, from T. D. Allman's arguable thesis that Miami, once "the Catskills with palm trees," is now "the most fascinating city in America" to Geoffrey Norman's eloquent paean to farmers--and plenty in between.
* In 1960, Americans drank 128 bottles of soda pop a year; by 1981, they were guzzling 412.3. What (burp) happened? Mitchell Shields in Savvy explains all, including the strategy behind Diet Coke and the fizz barons' schemes to exploit our aging demographics. Must reading for dentists and cola-heads.
* Washington Monthly's tirade against rampant Mammonism in our $287-billion-per-annum medical industry (and its practice of "wallet biopsies") may suffer from a touch of Pecuniary Envy Syndrome, but it has some marvelous revelations. Like the American Hospital Association's suggestions on how to get those pesky uninsured poor off the premises: "allow lengthy waiting time to develop in the emergency department," "segregate the waiting areas for paying and non-paying patients" and "offer a two-class system of care based on patients' ability to pay."
More hours well spent: National Geographic's lavish spread on Arctic peoples; Scientific American's densely informative analysis of the future of American farming; both Money and Savvy on tax-free municipals (very bullish); Technology Illustrated on computer film effects; Outside on bike racing; and California, which calls the Army's new Bradley troop carrier "a rolling death trap." Science on the March
Finding it kinda smoggy lately? Your problem, says Science Digest, is, uh, termites: They produce twice the amount of carbon dioxide as burning fuel does. Oh, and "there are approximately three-quarters of a ton of termites for every person on Earth." Think that's depressing? B. D. Colen in Rolling Stone says that Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome may prove "the deadliest epidemic" since the swine-flu plague of 1918 and could have contaminated the nation's blood banks. (You know, Howard Hughes may have been on to something.) . . . Why Johnny Can't Read: A survey in Highwire, the high-schoolers' quarterly, finds that 77 percent of respondents cheated on tests and 80 percent on homework. (These kids could have a future at OMB.) . . . And Science 83 reports that a team of Cornell scientists is urging the use of "small, self-contained mobile anaerobic reactors" for waste disposal on long space missions. Translation: two goats. (Gene Roddenberry--call your casting director!) Overachievers I
The Humbert Humbert Drooling Towel (and half-ton of termites) to Life, for its cover combining the nation's No. 1 nubile inanity, Brooke Shields, with a desperate editor's No. 1 brain-dead cliche': bikini-modeling.
And the Fu Manchu Ceremonial Dagger to Harper's for Marvin Murdick's vicious "review" of Susan Sontag's recent collection. Harper's has come to specialize in defamatory rant disguised as book reviews, with an emphasis on rabid humor. So Murdick mercilessly lampoons Sontag's style (parentheses and brackets keep banging like loose screen doors in the hot wind of the prose), but has virtually nothing substantive to say. Worse yet is the gratuitously obscene headline, "Susie Creamcheese Makes Love Not War--What Susan Sontag is Full Of," which threw Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sontag's publisher) into a retaliatory swivet. We say it's sadistic vulgarity, and we say the hell with it. Quotes de Jour
"Most people would have been grateful to President Carter if he had dropped an atomic bomb on Teheran. He would have been reelected."--Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young in Penthouse. (Sometimes we're not sure that Andy's seat-back is in the full upright position.)
John Glenn, interviewed in the Jan. 31 New York about the film version of "The Right Stuff" and his presidential chances: "The script I saw makes it look like 'Laurel and Hardy Go to Space.' It shows me as the preaching Presbyterian prude whom the others finally rally around." But since "a lot of people are going back to church," it "might be a plus." (Might: The first of Gallup's special surveys for revamped Publishers Weekly found religious books accounting for 16 percent of all nonfiction sales--the highest single category.)
Miami cartoonist Don Wright, on hearing that imaginative smutsters had discerned a private part of the presidential anatomy in his cartoon of a trampled Reagan (Newsweek, Jan. 17; U.S. News, Jan. 31): "That's ridiculous. It's the shirt coming out of the trousers as the feet come down on the body." Chips Ahoy
The IBM personal computer, which has already engendered a half-dozen mags, is now at the center of the hottest rack war on the micro circuit: First there was PC, the monthly that in less than a year became an ad-fat sensation. It caught the attention of Ziff-Davis, which hastily bought the book for about $1 million in November--over the outraged protest of founder-editor David Bunnell, who claimed part ownership. He left in disgust to start a new magazine, his staff followed him, and 135,000 copies of the result will debut later this month: PC World, a perfect-bound $3 monthly with some 350 pages covering the IBM and 20 "IBM-compatible" rigs, backed by CW Communications. CW also owns InfoWorld, the indispensable tabloid weekly for microcomputer users (which recently reported that a New York monk has written what may be "the first ecclesiastical computer game, 'Pax-Man' "). Meanwhile, rival PC, at $3 for February's 476 pages, has just named veteran journalist Corey Sandler as editor, and Z-D enthusiasm is reported near bonkers level.
Speaking of which: Venture reports on Rockville's EMV Associates and its plan to create organic "biochips" which assemble themselves. Hey--no problem: "brain neurons grow onto a layer of proteins," which are then "deposited on conventional metal electrodes." Take that, Hitachi! Quotes de Jour II
ABC's intrepid Sam Donaldson in Playboy: "The president said, 'Sam, this is a photo opportunity. No questions.' 'Mr. President, I think I have a right to ask a question. Of course, sir, you always have a right not to answer it.' He said, 'Well, I can also ask you to go sit in the corner and wash your mouth out with soap.' " Playboy: Did you say anything back? "No, no. You always let the president have the last word . . . unless you're stupid."
Dustin Hoffman, after witnessing the death of his mother and the near-death of his wife and son, has a drear "emotional knowledge" of mortality. "I could always cry when I was acting before, but it was tough for me to cry in life," he tells Rolling Stone. "Now I cry very easily. Life can be so great and yet everything is sad because it's going to be over . . . It's why religion is so important, why I pray more now." Brand New
!Latina!, a "bilingual, bicultural" monthly from Charisma Enterprises in Los Angeles, is aimed at the Hispanic female market with articles on fashion, health and fitness. Could be mucho dinero, say the two 32-year-old female editors, since "the Hispanic population in the U.S." is "equal to the sixth largest Latin country in the Americas." Plus two from Fed City: Body Garage, the erstwhile eight-page giveaway out of Silver Spring, is now a glossy 52-page bimonthly for black readers. Publisher-editor Bill Green, also heard on WHUR radio, promises "a practical approach to health and beauty." So far it's long on promo ads, short on editorial. And for federalism fans, now there's State Policy Reports out of Arlington, a biweekly covering fiscal, regulatory and other topics in all 50 states. Not for Women Only
Read 'Em and Weep: Gobbling up paperback romances can improve your sex life, Ms. says, since the heroines tend to be "responsive" rather than passive. But Warning: The Feminist General has determined that the ordeal of landing Mr. Right reinforces "the notion that women are by nature masochistic." . . . Remember all that stuff in the Book of Genesis about woman being man's "helper" or "helpmate?" Nix, says an article in Biblical Archaeology Review, it's the wrong translation: The original Hebrew word actually means "a power equal to man." . . . Are girls really teachers' pets? Parents reports a study by AU profs Myra and David Sadker, which shows that "teachers usually give more encouragement to boys." That's Incredible
Two insights into the scientific mind from Discover (the issue with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Heart Replacements, But Were Afraid to Lose Your Lunch). Bio-savants are exulting over successfully grafting rat growth-hormone genes into mice. Swell. Here we are up to our mukluks in termites, and do these boys breed a giant anteater? No! We get mutant maxi-rodents. (If those things get loose, you're gonna need mousetraps the size of Toyotas.) And there's more baffling news from the industrious Orient: Japanese computer wizards have just calculated the value of pi to more than 4 million decimal places. "Does such precision," Discover asks, "have any conceivable use? Probably not." Now that's inscrutable. Overachievers II
The Annette Funicello-Clearasil Trophy to often-bland Science Digest for overcompensating with a) a cover story on "teen astronauts" and b) wretched excess in contest-mongering. Three prizes are plugged on the cover, including a trip to teenie space camp for naming the 10th planet--a bleak and arid hellscape incapable of sustaining human life. (We suggested "Crystal City.")
And the Rip Van Winkle Memorial Alarm Clock to Playboy, which has discovered cocaine in Hollywood! There might be a dozen people left in Botswana who haven't heard that moviedom has gone toot sweet. But writer Asa Baber dutifully talks to some dealers anyway in a curiously abstract rehash of the obvious. Except for one spoon-head's remark about the filming of "1941": "Those people were (freebasing) all the time on that set. Did you think that movie was funny? It was chaotic--that's all. They did more than $1 million of base on that film. They made a movie that basically said, 'Look at me, Ma, I'm high.' " Now that might have made a story--if you had a nose for news. Home Town Topics
In Harper's, Emily Yoffe's mordantly deadpan "Rich Dog, Poor Dog" contrasts the voluptuous care at Washington's swank Friendship Hospital for Animals with the charnel ambiance down at the pound and examines the catty rivalry between the Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League.
* Find your mailbox clogged with huckster howdies from something called LC, a new monthly "for friends of the Library of Congress," wanting you to pledge $17.95 ("Send No Money!") for a trial subscription? Well, button your bankroll: Michael Wentzel of The Baltimore Sun found that 1) there is no such magazine--the mailing is a market test of potential interest by Communications International, a New York ad-rep outfit; and 2) it has no institutional connection to the L of C, although officials are reportedly "pleased" at the prospect of having their "unique treasures" described.
Kudos to Regardie's for printing C. P. Freund's retrospective on the Trinidad neighborhood--a sentimental study in urban entropy and a pleasing change from the usual biz-monde swankery. And ditto to the increasingly intriguing City Paper for its Book Flaps column and recent coverage of the planned WHFS sell-out . . . Post scribe Margaret Engel has been named Glamour's Washington columnist . . . Meridian House is featured in the current Southern Accents, a flossy quarterly for the julep-and-tulip set . . . And Solon-watchers who missed the useful new "Congress at a Glance" directory in the Jan. 22 National Journal can get extra copies at $4 a pop. As the Whirl Turns
For its 50th anniversary, Newsweek will publish a special 53rd issue, "The American Dream" (on sale the week of Feb. 21), examining a half-century of history through the lives of five Ohio families. A Newsweek International conference will feature President Reagan speaking live by satellite, and in the U.S. a series of seven regional "celebrations" paying tribute to newsmakers, advertisers and employes begins Monday at Lincoln Center. And for its 50th, Esquire's producing special issues in June (greatest hits) and December (50 mini-profiles of Great Americans) and has just formed Esquire Press to expand mag pieces (like "How a Man Ages") into books.
House and Garden's new look is even more sumptuous this month, the second since the old $1.50 helpful-hinter dropped its circulation to 550,000 and became a $4 high-saturation spectacle for the Better Sort of breakfast trays. If it looks like Architectural Digest, well, AD's ad revenues were up 20.9 percent in '82; the old H&G's down 14.8. But there's ample difference, too. H&G has "a little more pluralism," says editor-in-chief Louis Gropp, "and we're more interested in writing." This month there's Susan Sontag on grottoes and their "playfulness with morbid feelings"; and coming soon, a dollop of Norman Mailer's new novel and Arthur Miller on gardening.
Us, the hugely successful People-clone found in the bottoms of better parrot cages everywhere, has delayed plans to go weekly, citing the recession . . . Rolling Stone starts a satirical cartoon about Nancy Reagan . . . and the '82 figures are in: Time's best-selling cover was the herpes menace (worst: the budget brawl), and both Newsweek and People topped out with Princess Grace. Newsweek's worst was the joy of gardening; People's the cast of Falconcrest. The New Republic's biggie was Martin Peretz' "Lebanon Eyewitness." And Fortune's worst floppola seems apocalyptic: Who will care for the poor? And Finally
Your taxes at work, from Washington Monthly: "Gen. Edward C. Meyer, Army Chief of Staff, has ordered the Army to come up with camouflage fatigues for pregnant soldiers by Oct. 1, 1984. Meyer has also reaffirmed the existing policy that male soldiers in uniform cannot carry umbrellas--but female soldiers can." No word yet on tote bags