COSTS OF COMMUNISM
At the embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C., a fund-raiser was held for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Congress authorized the foundation to design and construct a memorial to the more than 100 million victims of communism. The National Capital Memorial Commission approved a site for it at Maryland and Constitution avenues, N.E., just behind the Supreme Court and a block from the Capitol. The memorial will include a 10-foot "Goddess of Democracy," a replica of the statue raised by pro-democracy Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, and quotations from figures such as Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan.
Among the many present was John Hanes, one of the few scholars who was given total access to KGB archives after the fall of the Soviet Union.
SARTWELL, NOT SARTRE
Friends gathered at the A.I.R. Gallery in Chelsea on Saturday evening for a reception celebrating Crispin Sartwell's book "Six Names of Beauty" (Routledge).
The book examines the meaning of beauty in various cultures. Mr. Sartwell is a freelance culture critic for the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and is chair of Humanities and Sciences at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He used to review country music for the New York Press when John Strausbaugh oversaw its cultural coverage.
In the introduction that evening, Mr. Sartwell's wife and fellow writer, Marion Winik, introduced her author-husband, saying, "To be honest, I'm not an expert in philosophy and have never read more than a few pages of Hegel or Habermas without my eyes rolling back in my head. I have to admit to being the kind of person who would rather read a recipe for vegetable soup than an explanation of the meaning of life. What Jean-Paul Sartre couldn't do for me, however, Crispin Sartwell has - that is, write a book of philosophy I could read."
Mr. Sartwell played harmonica to accompany a passage he read that evening.
SCIENCE AND ART
Last night, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Roald Hoffman, hosted his monthly "Entertaining Science" evening at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village. In the audience were writer Oliver Sacks and Nobelist Bernard Mandelbrot.
Mr. Hoffman, a Cornell University professor, introduced the program by saying that he does not pay speakers, except in the form of a free dinner. "So we have to rely on local talent," he said, adding, "but what local talent" it is. The speakers were sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard, neurobiologist Paul Greengard, and art historian Avis Berman.
Mr. Greengard, who teaches at Rockefeller University, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2000 for discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system. He discussed the astronomical number of nerve cell connections there are in the brain. He joked that the number equaled the amount the national debt will reach in four years. He showed photos of nerves in the brain that resemble shrubs and trees - "dendritic arborization."
During the discussion period, Mr. Greengard said science is not an aesthetic issue but a factual matter of correct or incorrect: "Bad science is not bad science - it's junk. Bad art is bad art," he said.
Ms. von Rydingsvard showed slides of her sculpture, including some enormously large wooden bowls. The audience laughed when Mr. Hoffman asked if he could stand inside one. She said would have a hard time getting out, and that its cedar scent, used to protect against insects, would be hard to endure.
POETS HOUSE PALS
A party was held this weekend for National Book Award winner Jean Valentine at Poets House on Spring Street.
Poets House also hosted an event discussing the life and work of Laura (Riding) Jackson (1901-91), who published "Collected Poems" at the age of 37 and renounced poetry a year later. Jackson went on to pursue philosophical issues relating to language and truth.
Panelists included a board member of the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation, poet Laurel Blossom; the author of "A Mannered Grace: The Life of Laura (Riding) Jackson, Elizabeth Friedmann; an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lisa Samuels; and Forrest Gander, who is the director of the Graduate Program in Literary Arts/Creative Writing at Brown University.
"I'm just so amazed to see all these people here on this rainy night to celebrate Laura Riding, because I never hear people talk about her," Mr. Gander said, pausing to ask, "Who are you guys?"
The journalist Pete Hammil, currently a writer in residence in journalism at New York University, launched his new book, "Downtown: My Manhattan" (Little, Brown). The event was held at New York University's Glucksman Ireland House.
The audience laughed when Mr. Hamill said, "I'm always apprehensive about giving long readings as people start to squirm. They have to go the john or they're double parked."
The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C., is accepting nominations for the 2005 Jan Masaryk Gratias Agit Award (to be submitted by December 15). Given each year in June and generally presented by the Czech minister of foreign affairs, the award recognizes foreign Czechs who are promoting the Czech Republic and Czech issues around the world.