• Invasion Of The B Books

    There used to be giants in the film business-the Amazing Colossal Man and the 50-Foot Woman leap immediately to mind. They don't make characters like that anymore-or like the Teenage Caveman or the Ghost in the Invisible Bikini-and with good reason. Thanks to the demise of the double feature, there aren't any B movies to put them in. Back when men were men, and women wore tight sweaters and then wondered why creatures dragged them into black lagoons, B movies gave Hollywood a chance to go to extremes. Some of those cheap-and-fast films were extremely provocative ("Orgy of the Dead" was filmed in Sexicolor); others were extremely timely ("Runaway Daughters" showed "teenage girls in revolt against today's delinquent parents"). But what they were most was extremely awful. Consider that " The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes!" was played by a tea kettle poked full of holes and brought to a boil. Or that "Glen or Glenda" ("the strange case of a 'man' who changed his sex") used every foot of...
  • Fueling The Fire Over Halcion

    That Nila Wacaser stabbed her two young sons to death in a motel room was never in dispute. The Kansas City woman confessed to the crime in 1987 and received a death sentence in 1988. Before she could be executed, however, the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the conviction on a technicality and ordered a new trial. Two weeks ago Wacaser was back in court to mount a new defense. Citing her history of psychiatric troubles, her lawyers argued that Halcion, the sleep remedy she was receiving at the time of the crime, had unleashed a rage she might otherwise have checked. The argument failed--Wacaser was found guilty on May 8 and committed suicide the next morning--but the case may fuel the controversy surrounding the world's most widely prescribed sleeping pill. For the trial produced evidence that Upjohn, the maker of Halcion, has brushed aside its own scientists' safety concerns. ...
  • On Being Competitive

    If nothing else, the Los Angeles riot ought to concentrate our minds on what matters-and what doesn't. What doesn't matter is "competitiveness," as it's normally understood. We're told that we're in a race (or worse, a "war") with the Japanese and the Europeans to control new technologies and industries. If we lose, our living standards will drop and we're finished as a superpower. ...
  • Doctor Deconstructo

    "When speculation has done its worst," Samuel Johnson once said, "two and two still make four." Not necessarily at Cambridge University, where, after weeks of acrimony, the faculty awarded an honorary doctorate of letters to Jacques Derrida, the founder of deconstructionism, the school of literary criticism holding that every text is "unstable" and has meanings the writer never intended. Derrida, Cambridge philosopher Hugh Mellor complained, "has to write more and more obscurely to disguise the fact that he has nothing to say." At the dons' last donnybrook, in 1985, Oxford did deny an honorary degree to Margaret Thatcher-but then, Derrida didn't cut funding for universities.
  • The Million-Dollar Woman

    It must have been one compelling two-and-a-half-page proposal. Susan Faludi, new feminism guru and author of the best-selling "Backlash," just fetched $1.5 million from William Morrow for her next book, "The Man Question." The subject: "It will look at men over the last two decades and find out who they are and why, and how they participated in creating the backlash," says Faludi's agent Sandra Dijkstra.
  • Germany's Master Builder

    Hans-Dietrich Genscher is to resign today as German foreign minister after 18 years in office. The news last month gave me a sense of almost personal loss--an odd reaction because, as much as I value Genscher as a friend, I have not always agreed with the foreign policies he conducted. But he was a master builder of diplomacy in the cold-war era, and a chief architect of his country's reunification. Genscher's resignation is an occasion for reflections not only on the past but also on Germany's future-and on the role he might yet play in it. ...
  • Just Friends

    Kari Swendsboe just didn't feel like asking some guy to this spring's junior prom at Dedham (Mass.) High School. Instead, she asked a female friend to come along. But when Swendsboe asked principal Anthony Zonfrelli for permission to buy tickets, she received a uniquely '90s response: because this is a "couples' dance," you can go together only if you state that you're gay. (Under state law, schools can't discriminate against homosexuals.) Swendsboe balked-primarily because she's heterosexual. The ACLU rallied behind her, and, eventually, the principal agreed to suspend the couples-only policy and let anyone go.
  • 'The Big-Time Killers Are Still Free'

    She is the children's avenger. Over the last two years Tania Maria Salles Moreira, a 40-year-old public prosecutor, has stalked dozens of alleged killers of Brazilian kids-winning convictions and prison sentences of up to 26 years for five notorious "exterminators." It's Herculean work. Tania Maria, as she is known in this first-name-only society, faces an uphill struggle in a judicial system devastated by years of neglect and widespread corruption. Her targets-hit men hired by drug dealers and merchant associations-are often untouchable in the courts as well as on the streets: they routinely terrorize witnesses, bribe judges and thwart investigations. Many of the killers are cops themselves. But Tania Maria persists in her simple quest. " The Brazilian people need to be reminded that there is a basic right that comes before any other: the right to live," she says. "If we don't secure this right, nothing else matters." ...
  • Salvation Army

    One step forward, two steps back: the Haitian Parliament is scheduled to vote this week on a plan for a "national salvation government" that looks like a ruse to perpetuate military rule. By calling for a new prime minister, the army-backed proposal slyly addresses one demand of an OAS-mediated parliamentary agreement, but pointedly ignores its most important requirement-the return to office of ousted President Jean-Baptiste Aristide. The plan also calls for new presidential elections, as a way of closing the book on Aristide.
  • Cheers To The Hard Stuff

    These are busy days for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It denied reports that Colt 45 Premium malt liquor was really the notorious PowerMaster. (The agency had forced G. Heileman to stop using the name because it glorified its alcoholic punch.) The bureau, says The Wall Street Journal, also signed off on a name change for another firm-Black Death Vodka is now Black Hat Vodka.
  • The Lapd's Crisis Of Faith

    The ominous graffiti scrawled on the walls of burned-out South-Central says it all: "It's not over yet." Angelenos are still feeling the aftershocks of the Rodney King verdict, and the Los Angeles Police Department remains where it's been for the last 14 months: at the epicenter of the disturbances. Last week began with the announcement that ex-FBI head William Webster would head an independent inquiry into police conduct during the riots and ended with a superior court judge's decision to retry Laurence Powell, the only officer not fully acquitted late last month. In between came a dramatic, predawn raid led by embattled Police Chief Daryl Gates. The result: the arrests of three men accused of brutally beating truckdriver Reginald Denny in the first hours of the riot (a fourth turned himself in). ...
  • A Riptide Of Refugees

    For three weeks the frightened family hid in a forest, dodging skirmishes between Bosnian militiamen and former federal soldiers just across the border with Serbia. They held their ground even when Serbs began to mortar their tiny village of Sapna. But when the tanks rolled into Sapna last week, Mehmed Salkic, his wife and five daughters fled. Now they sleep among 1,200 other refugees on a gymnasium floor in the mostly Muslim city of Tuzla; there is no shower and only bread and marmalade to eat. Another 1,000 Muslim refugees reach Tuzla every day. "What is happening in Bosnia passes all imagination," says Jose-Maria Mendiluce, special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo. " We are seeing something like World War II, with population centers being destroyed and towns and villages attacked not as military objects, but with the sole purpose of driving the people away." ...
  • Dress Code

    OK, so "Naked Beneath My Clothes" isn't as profound as "Being and Nothingness," but Jean-Paul Sartre wasn't as funny as Rita Rudner. In her collection of essays, due out next month, the comedienne doesn't shrink from the truly serious issues. "Women," she writes, " look forward to shopping for a bathing suit with much the same anticipation that baby seals look forward to clubbing season." Not even Simone de Beauvoir could have said it better.
  • Perot's Patriot Games

    To hear Ross Perot tell it, this presidential campaign thing came on him like a Texas twister: sudden, unbidden, too powerful to escape. Last March 16, he allowed on "Larry King Live" as how he'd run if folks placed him on ballots. Lo and behold, the switchboards jammed. If he's "stuck" in the White House, it won't be because he begged for the job, but because America begged him. Especially these days, it's an attractive story: reluctant leader, urged to serve in an era when politicians are reviled. ...
  • 24 Hours In Power

    Some jobs are hard to keep. Only a day after his reinstatement, Azerbaijan President Ayaz Mutalibov was forced into hiding by the Popular Front opposition, which took control of Baku, the capital, promising "to restore the trampled Constitution." In March, the former Communist Party chief resigned after being criticized for failing to defend Nagorno-Karabakh, the predominantly Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
  • Czech Chic

    It was the butt of "Saturday Night Live skits back in the 1970s. But now Prague, Czechoslovakia, actually is "one swingin' place." An estimated 20,000 Americans-and countless other Westerners-now reside in the suddenly hip city of 1.2 million. Many have been hired to teach English classes now that Czechoslovakia has eschewed communism; others simply lounge around cafes, endlessly tossing off pretentious Czech phrases about poet-president Vaclav Havel. And there are now two popular English-language newspapers circulating throughout the area. Word is, after Managua fell out of vogue along with the Sandinistas, post-college and expatriate types looking for adventure decided Prague was the perfect place to be young and angry.
  • A Short, Amazing Life

    The work of Eva Hesse in the mid-1960s was crucial in leading sculpture out of the minimal forest of grids and boxes and back to the free-flowing river of intuition. Using flexible materials like latex and vinyl tubing to make constant allusions to female anatomy, Hesse successfully challenged the art world's macho derring-do. Because she died tragically (of a brain tumor in 1970, at 34), her sculpture resonates with a kind of heroism. A new retrospective of more than 100 pieces at the Yale University Art Gallery (through July 31, then traveling to Washington, D.C.) proves that the best of her work is also eccentrically beautiful. ...
  • Take That, Fungus Face

    She once called a political rival "fungus face" and challenged him to a fistfight. When he declined, she dared him to measure his brainpower against hers in an IQ test. He ducked that challenge, too. Miriam Defensor Santiago would be the Ross Perot of Philippine politics if she hadn't already become the Don Rickles--a master of the outrageous insult. "I may not be a genius," she said during the recent presidential campaign, "but my opponents are certifiable idiots." In the early stages of an excruciatingly slow vote count last week, Santiago was at or near the top of a seven-candidate field. The outcome might be known this week, but win or lose, Santiago was by far the most interesting candidate in a turbulent political arena. ...
  • Faith Finance

    Televangelist Pat Robertson agreed to dole out $6 million for United Press International, the wire service in Chapter 11 bankruptcy that's going to need a healthy dose of divine intervention to survive. Robertson's motives are mysterious--he was the only bidder for UPI, which is $60 million in debt--and many staffers are suspicious of their new boss. But at least now they'll continue to get their paychecks, which were about to be cut off.