Category Archives: books

There will be art: The Getty Villa and Getty Center in Los Angeles

Getty Villa

Getty Museum Courtyard

The late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty rather off-handedly created two massive monuments to himself in Los Angeles: The Getty Villa and the Getty Center, which are probably the leading tourist attractions for grownups (I would say “for adults,” but “adult” seems to mean “porn” these days). A much better use of massive oil profits than, say, spreading ignorance about anthropogenic global climate change. Although they are both billed as art museums, the architecture is what knocks your socks off.

The Villa, on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, requires reservations, which you can usually get online a day in advance in the winter, but more advance planning would be advisable at other times. Admission is free, but they do charge 15 dollars/vehicle for parking. The collection features antiquities of Greek, Roman and Etruscan origin. They are housed in a “campus” of buildings loosely based on the architecture of ancient Pompeii. Tours and films (and occasional lectures and symposia) are available free of charge and are listed in a little handout “Today at the Getty Villa”; early arrival is recommended to get the best selection. Flocks of docents, guards, and other staff are constantly at hand. The cafe is nice and the gift shop well-stocked.

Getty Center, which includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, is roughly ten times the size of the Villa. It is located in LA on the 405 just north of Sunset Blvd. Reservations are not required, admission is free, though there is a charge for parking. Closed Mondays and major holidays. The architecture (by Richard Meier), location and views are spectacular. A brief orientation film is shown continuously in the Museum entrance hall. The collections include a wide variety of art including photographs, sculpture, paintings and furniture. The modern era is under-represented. While the Impressionist collection is impressive, it is really in the medieval and religious collections that the Getty is unique among large American museums. Tours, lectures and other events are listed in “Today at the Getty Center”, available free in the Museum entrance hall. Audio devices are available to rent for $5, but are not necessary for the average tourist; the exhibits are largely self-explanatory. Food and beverages are available all over the campus. As for the Villa, the ideal plan would be to arrive at the Center early, have a pleasant and scenic lunch after a couple of hours, and wander about as long as the feet hold up, finishing at the gift/book shop. You can’t see it all in a day, unless that is your goal.

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Favorite sayings: “the Clue Train….”

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a great business book of a few years back. Strangely, you never hear anyone use the sarcastic “clue train” epithet:

“The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.”

It sounds like something George Costanza might have said, but I like it anyway.

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Film review: No Country for Old Men

This is a great flick. Based on the novel by 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy. It’s a little out of the mainstream, but that’s the Coen brothers for you. Tommy Lee Jones, (and other old men from Texas) gets to revel in his down-home accent and various cute homilies, and pretend to be astonished by the level of violence in the world. I mean, Texas is a land of ironies. The mild-mannered, polite, “god-fearing” folks, who drink, smoke, get boob jobs, go to strip clubs and practice racism and violence. But they all “church,” which makes it okay.

Fascinating place. Land of George W. Bush.

Javier Bardem: a total freaking scary guy.

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Filed under books, entertainment, George W. Bush: is he really THAT bad?, Movies, Texas, The Big Lebowski, Torture: you're next

Book recommend re Norman Mailer: Tom Wolfe’s “The Gang that Couldn’t Write Straight.”


An overview of the Gonzo generation of writers, from Wolfe’s perspective. Interesting reading, though a bit gossipy and NYC-centric.

Starting in 1965 and spanning a ten-year period, a group of writers including Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, John Sack, and Michael Herr emerged and joined a few of their pioneering elders, including Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, to remake American letters. The perfect chroniclers of an age of frenzied cultural change, they were blessed with the insight that traditional tools of reporting would prove inadequate to tell the story of a nation manically hopscotching from hope to doom and back again — from war to rock, assassination to drugs, hippies to Yippies, Kennedy to the dark lord Nixon. Traditional just-the-facts reporting simply couldn’t provide a neat and symmetrical order to this chaos.

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Big Lebowski makes it to McSweeney’s

Steve Buscemi gets a little airtime.

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Garrison Keillor chosen for Steinbeck Award

Garrison Keillor, a great Democrat, a great writer, a great American and a great entertainer, has been chosen to receive the Steinbeck Award. I cannot think of a better recipient. Any of you who have not listened to Keillor read his book “Homegrown Democrat” are deprived.


In 1996, with the backing of Elaine Steinbeck, the writer’s third wife, the Center created the annual “Steinbeck Award: ‘in the souls of the people.'” That phrase from Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath captures the writer’s enduring legacy as an engaged artist. From the 1930s on he wrote about “the people,” his heart open to the longing, loneliness, despair and triumph of those on the edges. Americans were his people, and his last book, America and Americans (1966) expresses his enduring love for a democratic nation:

“From our beginning, in hindsight at least, our social direction is clear. We have moved to become one people out of many. At intervals, men or groups, through fear of people or the desire to use them, have tried to change our direction, to arrest our growth, or to stampede the Americans. This will happen again and again. The impulses which for a time enforced the Alien and Sedition Laws, which have used fear and illicit emotion to interfere with and put a stop to our continuing revolution, will rise again, and they will serve us in the future as they have in the past to clarify and to strengthen our process. We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back-never.”

This award is given to writers and artists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of the “common man.” Recipients include Bruce Springsteen, John Sayles, Arthur Miller, Jackson Browne, Studs Terkel, Joan Baez, and Sean Penn.

Congratulations to Garrison Keillor !

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Book review: William Alsup’s “Missing in the Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr.”

This is a small book but a very interesting read. The subject is the death of a prominent young mountaineer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1933, and the subsequent search for his body. I don’t think I am giving anything away by stating that they did find it.

The author brings in a considerable amount of material about the early days of moutaineering and the Sierra Club, and some relevant information about Starr’s family and friends. There are a number of previously unpublished photographs taken during the search; unfortunately, they are, like many other photos in the book, just pictures of mountains. Thankfully, there are several diagrams and maps which help to clarify the lay of the land. Still, the inability to really show the routes of the climbers is a deficiency; this seems to be a characteristic of this book genre. I don’t see why it’s so difficult, and I don’t see why authors and editors don’t understand the issue. All it would take is three or four well-chosen photographs (or even drawings) with the routes drawn in. Instead, there are the inevitable thousand words, which don’t provide an adequate mental image of the terrain, and inevitably make one’s head spin trying to understand the attempts at descriptions of spatial relationships.
The family had made the rather bizarre request that the remains be interred where he died. Well, such an effort on a hazardous spot on a huge rock mountain leads to certain (shall we say) consequences. The author ends with a fascinating description of a recent visit to the site.

I recommend this book, giving it a 3.5 out of 4.

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Filed under books, global warming/environment, Outdoors, San Francisco, travel

Salman Rushdie knighted; Iran displeased


….his second effort – the magic realist novel Midnight’s Children – catapulted him to literary fame.

It won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was awarded the Booker of Bookers in 1993 after being judged the best novel to have won the prize during its 25-year history.

Sir Salman, who turns 60 on 19 June, is renowned as a purveyor of story as political statement.

Death sentence

He takes history and fictionalises it, with imaginative brilliance, and much of his work is set in his native India and Pakistan.

His fourth book – The Satanic Verses in 1988 – describes a cosmic battle between good and evil and combines fantasy, philosophy and farce.

It was immediately condemned by the Islamic world because of its perceived blasphemous depiction of the prophet Muhammad.
It was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities and in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa, ordering Sir Salman’s execution.

Despite living as a virtual prisoner, with full police protection, Sir Salman continued to write and produced several novels and essays during his confinement.

His re-emergence has not been without controversy.
In backing Jack Straw over his comments on Muslim women wearing veils, Sir Salman said veils “suck” as they were a symbol of the “limitation of women”.

Of his knighthood for services to literature, Rushdie said: “I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way.”

NY Times reports Iranian reaction:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Rushdie, awarded the knighthood for services to literature in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors list published on Saturday, was “one of the most hated figures” in the Islamic world.

Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini portrayed the decision as an act directed against Islam by Britain, which is among world powers involved in an escalating standoff with Iran over Tehran’s disputed nuclear ambitions.

“Honoring and commending an apostate and hated figure will definitely put the British officials (in a position) of confrontation with Islamic societies,” Hosseini said.

“This act shows that insulting Islamic sacred (values) is not accidental. It is planned, organized, guided and supported by some Western countries,” he told a regular briefing.


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Book review: The Last Season, by Eric Blehm

This book came out a year ago, and is now in paperback. It is the true story of the disappearance of a National Park Ranger in the Sierra Mountains of California. Eric Blehm researched this book thoroughly and blends the life story of Ranger Randy Morgenson with descriptions of the search (inside and outside the park) that ensued after he went missing. The story takes a number of twists and turns, and is suspenseful and very well written. It won a National Outdoor Book award. My only criticism concerns the deficiency of certain kinds of photographs and maps that would have made the book even better.

I highly recommend this book.

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Son of anti-militarism author killed in Iraq

I can’t imagine what it must be like.

Boston University Professor Andrew J. Bacevich is a brave, thoughtful public intellectual who has tried — in reserved, serious terms — to challenge the legitimacy of the Iraq War. He has been one of the most articulate leading thinkers among military-policy dissident conservatives who have exposed the inanity of this war and the damage it has done. He authored the critically-acclaimed book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War.

Now his son by the same name who was serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom is dead — announced today by the Department of Defense:

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Filed under books, Dick Cheney: Hannibal Lector in disguise?, George W. Bush: is he really THAT bad?, Iraq, Middle East, Politics