Anyone who has been reading the essays of Lewis H. Lapham in Harper's (of which he is editor) and elsewhere for the past dozen years knows him for his easy erudition, his dry aphorisms of the modern age, and his relentless preoccupation with "Money and Class in America," not surprisingly the title and topic of his forthcoming chef-d'oeuvre.

Manhattan, inc. gives us a peek in its February issue: precocious Lapham, scion of old-money San Francisco and grandson of its mayor, slowly coming to terms with the rich kid's equivalent of his manhood -- the penalty of his privileged circumstances in a world gone berserk for money.

Lapham uses a doppelga nger, a pseudonymous fellow-Yalie named George Amory, who calculates how much it costs to live adequately in Manhattan today. He figures $300,400 per annum, including $30,000 for "maintenance of children's expectations." (Add $60,000 more to keep a mistress.)

"Seen from a safe distance, Amory's despair seems comic or grotesque," Lapham says, and we readily agree. But over the course of this discourse he brings us to the central problem. He doesn't put it so sharply, but he seems to think the increased availability of wealth has wrecked the stability of society.

"Apparently it is not poverty that causes crime, but rather the resentment of poverty," says Lapham. Modern envy is rooted in a pathology of frustration. Speaking of the upwardly mobile, he observes: "Even if they achieve what the world is pleased to acknowledge as success, they discover that the seizing of it fails to satisfy the hunger of their spiritual expectations." And thus is born a belief "that crowds them into corners of envy and rage. Imagining that they can be transformed into gods, they find themselves changed into dwarfs."

Life on the Front

Since she became its managing editor last year, Patricia Ryan has been trying to keep Life right on top of the news of the day. The monthly does have a more current, energetic feel these days, and sometimes even makes a little news.

The touted feature for the February issue is a report from the Soviet front lines in Afghanistan, which is significant on two counts: one, that Americans can read it, and two, that Russians can read it, too (in the Soviet magazine Ogonyok).

Readers with a short fuse for melodrama would do well to just skim the (by turns) breathless and world-weary account by Artyom Borovik, Ogonyok's Afghan correspondent. But there is certain curiosity value in knowing what Soviet grunts are saying and not saying in the middle of their quagmire.

It's a pity that in this of all magazines, the story has only one sizable photo -- not a bad one, snapped by Borovik. But there is outrageously good portraiture in other February segments on the presidential candidates, the Australians and the '88 Olympians.

Broadcast Blues

Attention, Holly Hunter fans: In the January issue of Channels, reporter Janice Castro finds that career prospects for women in television -- both the news and entertainment sides -- are rotten. Not only that, the men who run the industry still act like troglodytes. "The evidence of a persistent pattern of discrimination against women in the television industry is far more than anecdotal," Castro writes, and then rolls out some dismaying but predictable statistics.

It's the anecdotes, though -- most of them under the cloak of anonymity -- that zing. One studio executive remembers that "I had just been promoted to a good production position when I received a call from a network executive I hardly knew, one with whom I would be doing business. He invited me to 'go to Vegas for the weekend and celebrate.' I told him bluntly that I'd take a pass on that, then added, 'I thought I'd left those proposals behind years ago.' He said to me, 'The difference is that now you can say no.' He wasn't kidding."

An ABC News correspondent made this observation: "The brightest women in television are all 27 and wear spike heels. Until they turn 30 or so. Then there's a new crop. The only way that women in this business can protect themselves is to sleep in formaldehyde and never get wrinkles."

Castro doesn't find much good news in current promotion policies at the three networks, where men have dominated the career ladders for decades. Inside the Fox and Turner systems, because they were launched in more enlightened times, the prospects for talented women are more promising.

A senior writer on a prime-time TV show had this to say: "People tell you that some of the women who claim discrimination are mediocre talent ... {But} it's a hell of a lot easier to get along as a mediocre writer, director or executive if you're white and male."

Manion of the Winter

Whoever it was that said "I don't care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right" couldn't have said that in today's journalistic atmosphere. The American Lawyer, a fair-minded monthly, has published a January-February story on the performance of Daniel Manion, who was approved (by a Senate vote of 51-50, not exactly a ringing endorsement) for a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seat last year amid considerable controversy about his qualifications. The gist of the profile by Stephen J. Adler, and the headline next to a full torso shot of Manion: NOT THAT DUMB.