Madonna puts her spin on the news Immaterial girl? Singer talks about the O. J. verdict, race relations, politics and the pope.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

File this one under the category of "who cares?"

In next month's Spin, Madonna tells us she was "devastated" by the O. J. Simpson verdict, thinks Mario Cuomo would make an "incredible" president and would "fly into a rage" if she ever got into a room with the pope.

Madonna tries to come off as an introspective, philosophical artist in a lengthy interview with Bob Guccione Jr. But her insights into O. J., race relations and Catholicism sound contrived and fatuous and are undermined by her relentless use of epithets. Part of the blame lies with Mr. Guccione, Spin's editor and publisher, who never challenges Madonna when she calls herself a "role model" or says she equates "God and religion and sacrifice with taboo and sexuality."

Mr. Guccione also seems to believe that readers really are interested in Madonna's views on the state of art in America or on relations between black men and black women. What Madonna is actually good at is making titillating statements. "I believe that I have never been treated more disrespectfully as a woman than by the black men that I've dated" is one example.

Impossible perfection

Tired of Martha Stewart and Julia Child pulling off perfect dinner parties for eight that no real human could ever hope to replicate -- at least no real human without a cadre of hired help? Then turn to Anthony Lane's witty and sardonic piece in the New Yorker (Dec. 18) railing against the tyranny of cookbooks.

"I follow instructions, and cook dinner for friends, and the friends are usually friends again by the next morning, but what they consume at my table bears no more than a fleeting resemblance to the dish that I read about in the recipe," Mr. Lane observes.

"Last summer," he writes, "I did something difficult with monkfish tails; the dish took two days to prepare, a full nine minutes to eat, and three days to wash up after."

Mr. Lane takes Ms. Stewart, who's built a multimedia entertainment empire that makes it seem she's everywhere, to task for extravagant, complicated and time-consuming culinary projects that few people could mimic -- or even want to.

"Martha does not perspire," he writes. "There is not a squeak of panic in the woman's soul." Ms. Stewart's cookbooks, like so many others, offer the illusion of producing something grand with ease.

"They bespeak order, but they end in tears," Mr. Lane concludes -- from experience.

Bordering on havoc

Xenophobia has reared its ugly head again. A great hue and cry has been raised about protecting U.S. borders against poor immigrants who might deprive an American of a job or use up precious government handouts. In this climate, it is useful to understand what's happening on the other side of the fence, or river. That's what makes John Ross' sobering article on Mexico in the Nation timely.

A little more than a year ago, Washington was extolling the "Mexican miracle" that was sure to turn the United States' long-impoverished neighbor into a First World economic power. But that was before the peso tumbled, triggering an economic crisis that has wreaked social havoc. Naturally, Mr. Ross notes, the poor have suffered the most.

Since January, the Mexican government calculates, 2.5 million Mexicans have gone from poverty to extreme poverty, adding to "the 13 million to 18 million citizens who cannot, by United Nations standards, satisfy their daily nutritional needs," Mr. Ross writes.

Even the rich aren't immune. Kidnappers, recognizing that the wealthy are not as flush as formerly, are lowering their ransom demands. Worst of all, there are signs, Mr. Ross reports, that the Mexican military is becoming increasingly unhappy with President Ernesto Zedillo.

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