Magazine article The New Yorker

OXFORD ON THE HUDSON; DEPT. OF DISCOURSE Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

OXFORD ON THE HUDSON; DEPT. OF DISCOURSE Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

The name of Robert Rosenkranz, the businessman and philanthropist, is not universally recognized, even on Park Avenue. "I know a variety of Rosen-kranz-es--which one is he?" asked Robert Albertson, a principal at Sandler O'Neill, as he mingled at a reception at the Asia Society and Museum the other evening.

This Rosenkranz was picking up the tab for the reception, and also for the formal debate that followed it in the society's theatre, on the proposition "Hollywood has fuelled anti-Americanism abroad." Rosenkranz, who is reminiscent, in his build, wardrobe, and winter tan, of Michael Bloomberg in his pre-populist incarnation, is the chairman of Delphi Financial Group. He is also the sponsor of Intelligence Squared U.S., a spinoff of a debate series that originated in London in 2002. The British version has presented debates on such topics as "Enough money has been spent saving Venice" and "Foreign aid to poor countries has done more harm than good." Rosenkranz hopes that his debates--modelled on those conducted at the Oxford Union, with three speakers for the motion and three against, holding forth for eight minutes apiece--will provide an Athenian tonic to a public discourse coarsened by Bill O'Reilly-style incivility.

Before the recent debate (admission forty dollars) at the Asia Society, Deirdre Byrne, a former litigator who now sells real estate in the Hamptons for Sotheby's, explained the series' appeal. "There is no intellectual component in my work, so I have to seek it out somewhere," she said. Richard Huber, the former C.E.O. of Aetna, who now has business interests ranging from wine and ice-breaking in Chile to supermarkets and emerald mines in Brazil, said that the format promised to be much more enlivening than the snoozy events offered by the Council on Foreign Relations, of which he is also a member. "They tend to be pronouncements," he said.

The debate was not entirely devoid of pronouncements, the debaters largely lacking the oratorical light-footedness that is the hallmark of an Oxford Union speaker. (The platonic ideal of such a debater, Christopher Hitchens, had been conscripted earlier in the season, to advocate that "Freedom of expression must include the license to offend. …

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