A heightened profile for one of L.A.’s black pioneers
By Bob Pool
February 24, 2009
Negrohead Mountain is an unlikely memorial to a former slave who made a name for himself at the western end of Los Angeles County. More than 120 years ago, pioneers in the Santa Monica Mountains named the peak for John Ballard, the first black man to settle in the hills above Malibu.
Ballard was a former Kentucky slave who had won his freedom and come to Los Angeles in 1859. In the sleepy, emerging city, he had a successful delivery service and quickly became a landowner. Soon he was active in civic affairs: He was a founder of the city’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The arrival of the railroad triggered a land boom in Los Angeles in the 1880s, boosting property values and bringing the city its first sense of class structure and the beginnings of segregation.
Ballard packed up his family and moved about 50 miles west to the snug valley in the middle of the Santa Monica range. He settled first on 160 acres — space that eventually doubled in size when one of his seven children, daughter Alice, claimed an adjoining plot.
Besides raising livestock and a few crops, Ballard collected firewood in the nearby mountains and sold it in Los Angeles.
He also worked at blacksmithing and other chores on the Russell Ranch, a sprawling cattle spread at what is now Westlake Village. He would travel by mule or buggy several miles through Triunfo Canyon to get there.
J.H. Russell, who had grown up on his family’s ranch and as a boy rode his horse to Ballard’s rickety cabin to mooch biscuits smothered with wild grapes preserved in honey by Ballard’s wife, remembered the scene well in his 1963 book, “Heads and Tails . . . and Odds and Ends.”
“The Ballard house was something to behold. It was built of willow poles, rocks, mud and Babcock Buggy signs (“Best on Earth”), Maier & Zobelein Lager Beer signs and any other kind of sign the old man picked up. Hardly a Sunday passed where there were not several buggies, spring wagons and loads of people going down the canyon to see the place,” he wrote.
Ballard was powerfully built — he could hoist 100-pound bags of barley with one hand — and traveled in a wagon pulled by five mules and “sometimes a cow or horse hitched up with the five,” Russell recounted.
[ click to continue reading at LATimes.com ]
Why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel?
By Laura Miller
Feb. 24, 2009 | Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker, as well as the bylines and literary works reviewed in such highbrow journals as Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it’s not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?
The question is horribly fraught, and has been since the 1970s. Ten years ago, in a much-argued-about essay for Harper’s, the novelist and critic Francine Prose accused the literary establishment — dispensers of prestigious prizes and reviews — of continuing to read women’s fiction with “the usual prejudices and preconceptions,” even if most of them have learned not to admit as much publicly. Two years before that, Jane Smiley, also writing in Harper’s, alleged that “Huckleberry Finn” is overvalued as a cultural monument while “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is undervalued, largely because of the genders of the novels’ respective authors; the claim triggered a deluge of letters in protest.
It takes your food seven seconds to get from your mouth to your stomach.
One human hair can support 3 kg (6.6 lb).
The average man’s penis is three times the length of his thumb.
Human thighbones are stronger than concrete.
A woman’s heart beats faster than a man’s.
There are about one trillion bacteria on each of your feet.
Women blink twice as often as men.
The average person’s skin weighs twice as much as the brain.
Your body uses 300 muscles to balance itself when you are standing still.
If saliva cannot dissolve something, you cannot taste it.
Women reading this will be finished now.
Men are still busy checking their thumbs.
Profile: Michael Craven
Crispin creative exec pens ‘Body Copy,’ a murder mystery set in the agency world
Feb 22, 2009
“Ad agencies provide a good canvass for a murder mystery,” says Michael Craven, a 38-year old associate creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, explaining the setting of his recently-published first novel, Body Copy. “There are a lot of smart people, attractive people, people who are semi-famous and creative people who don’t necessarily make decisions in a rational way — and then of course there is jealousy and ego sometimes. There are some nice ingredients for a crime story.”
The Harper novel tells the tale of a former pro surfer turned P.I. who investigates the murder of the famous creative director at Parker/Gale, a fictitious Los Angeles agency known for its award-winning work. One chief suspect is an envious, not-so-celebrated local competitor.
“I love detective novels and always wanted to write one,” says Craven, a Jacksonville, Fla., native who studied English at the University of Georgia before beginning his advertising career as an assistant at Grey Entertainment in New York in the mid-90s.
“I had a vague sense that I wanted to be a writer,” says Craven, who counts Ross Macdonald, Carl Hiaasen and friend James Frey as a few of his favorite authors. “But I didn’t know what kind of writer or really what that meant or how you made that happen.”
A friend at Simon & Schuster, where he first worked after moving to New York post-graduation in 1992, introduced him to someone at Grey and set him on a career path in advertising that took him to MTV’s in-house agency, then to TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., and most recently to Crispin, where he began as a senior copywriter on Burger King in 2007 and now serves as an associate creative director on the Microsoft account.
Most Bananas Oscars Ever?
Okay, yeaaah, the Oscars! It’s going to take us at least a few more days to really be able to digest all the absolute batsh*t craziness that went down during Sunday night’s telecast. Can we all just start by agreeing that that show was truly bonkersville? We know there will be plenty of ink shed on the big winners: Kate, Sean, Penélope, Heath, Slumdog, etc., so we’ll just stick to the show itself for now.
Let’s start with the stage, with the 92,000-Swarovski-crystal curtain which looked like something that got thrown up straight from Moonstruck-era Cher’s brain – razzle dazle doesn’t begin to describe it. And then there’s Hugh Jackman. We’ve already heard a lot of dissenting chatter about the Aussie’s hosting duties, but we’re just going to come out and say it: nailed it! Because listen, that man committed. He went out there for his debut Oscar-hosting night and put on an opening number that we still actually can’t believe happened. He started, gracefully, with a self deprecating joke about his giant bomb of a film Australia and led into a song and dance number – including inspired bits encompassing the big five plus a much needed shout out to snubbed Dark Knight – that had that jaded crowd at the Kodak on their feet. Props to Anne Hathaway for a shockingly good faux impromptu assist (who knew she could sing?). But our favorite moment (not including Mr. Jackman pausing in front of Brad and Angelina and admitting, “I don’t have a joke for them, I’m just contractually obligated to mention them five times”)
Don’t watch to the end if you don’t like gore.
A New Role for Iraqi Militants: Patrons of the Arts
Stephen Farrell/The New York Times
An art exhibition in Baghdad was sponsored by the movement of an anti-American cleric.
BAGHDAD — Two years ago the American authorities arrested Sheik Mazin al-Saedi, a senior aide to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, accusing him of organizing kidnappings and killings.
This week in Baghdad, the city once terrorized by those killings, Sheik Mazin mingled in a white-walled art gallery as the patron of an exhibition of paintings and sculptures that would not, exactly, be out of place in Chelsea or SoHo: abstract art, expressionist paintings and conceptual works larded with symbols of Iraq’s ancient history and today’s reality.
The goal was “to show the entire world that we are not as the media portrays us, a movement that believes only in bearing arms and knows no culture other than that of violence,” Sheik Mazin said of Mr. Sadr’s movement, which is widely blamed for its part in the violence that followed the American invasion in 2003.
“The Sadr movement,” he said, “is also one that believes in ideas and encourages and patronizes the arts.”
New York’s Priapic Prince of Ping-Pong
Franck Raharinosy is ready to paddle Manhattan’s smart set.
Hands off, ladies! Mr. Raharinosy is engaged!
The Prince of Madagascar lives in a penthouse apartment at the National Arts Club, overlooking the barren trees and locked gates of Gramercy Park. The Prince loves Ping-Pong. His mission is to properly introduce Ping-Pong to Manhattan; he’s plotting Ping-Pong establishments all over the city.
So went the tale around a recent party at the National Arts Club for Argentine artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose works include a $40,000 Ping-Pong table made of mirrored glass. “Have you heard about the Prince who lives in the Penthouse? He’s about to open an exclusive Ping-Pong club.” The party featured an exhibition match between a pair of 14-year-old Nigerian-born twins and 78-year-old U.S. singles champion Marty Reisman.
The Prince is Franck Raharinosy, a 33-year-old fledgling filmmaker and Ping-Pong impresario who last week signed a 15-year lease for the 13,000-square-foot basement of 304 Park Avenue. In the past six months, Mr. Raharinosy says, he and three business partners have raised close to $1.5 million to build Spin, a 14-table Ping-Pong social club, which will include a natty members-only lounge designed by Todd Oldham and sponsored by sportswear designer Fred Perry. They hope to open in May.
Until last spring Messrs. Raharinosy, Jonathon Bricklin and Bill Mack lived together in a Tribeca loft, which also served as offices for their film production company, Ridiculous Inc., which produces movies, music videos, celebrity events and documentaries such as The Entrepreneur, which tells the story of Mr. Bricklin’s father, Malcolm Bricklin, who founded Subaru of America when he was 28; the movie will be showing in New York later in the year. In the loft, of course, was a Ping-Pong table. The sporting fellows started throwing twice-weekly “Naked Ping-Pong” parties, sometimes featuring pro players and always featuring attractive women. There was no nudity but, according to Mr. Mack, “there was a steady flow of women in and out of Franck’s room. … He’s definitely had sex on the Ping-Pong table. His numbers are really high.”
|Scorsese plans film on Christian persecution|
TOKYO — Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese plans to adapt for the screen a novel on Japan’s brutal persecution of Christians during the 17th century, according to a museum.
The 1966 novel “Chinmoku” (“Silence”) by Shusaku Endo tells the story of a young idealistic Jesuit priest from Portugal who lands on the shores of Nagasaki in southern Japan — then the only region open to foreigners.
The novel depicts the severe persecution Japan then inflicted on converts to Christianity, many of whom were impoverished villagers and went into hiding.
Academy Award-winning art director Dante Ferretti, who is close to Scorsese, and producer E. Bennett Walsh this week visited the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture to research the film.
“They are going to make a movie and so they visited to research Japanese Christian history,” museum spokesman Koichiro Nishijima said.
He said that the pair carefully studied a “fumie,” a metal plaque depicting Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary that authorities would make people step on in order to weed out Christians.
Gabriel pulls out of Oscars over 65-second limit
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Peter Gabriel’s minute in the Oscars spotlight will lack one important element: Peter Gabriel.
The Academy Award-nominated singer won’t perform at the Feb. 22 ceremony to protest an apparently revamped presentation of best original song contenders. Gabriel says in a video on his Web site that he objects to the songs being shortened to 65 seconds apiece and made part of a medley.
Gabriel is nominated alongside Thomas Newman for “Down To Earth” from “WALL-E.”
The British musician says he’ll still attend the Oscars, but is hoping a gospel choir will stand in for him onstage.
Nutty for Nutella: spreadable joy
By Amy Scattergood
February 11, 2009
Do a Google search for “Nutella,” the Italian hazelnut-chocolate spread that comes in a squat jar like peanut butter and is often found right next to it in grocery aisles, and you’ll get about 5 million results. Which is about twice what you get when you Google “chocolate chip cookies” — and several times as many as the phrase “Valentine’s Day chocolates.” You might want to remember that this weekend.
Because Nutella isn’t just junk food with a European pedigree. It can be an obsession, a habit, even a cult. If you think this is foodie hyperbole, you’re just not among the initiated.
Gandhi’s eyeglasses to be auctioned in NYC
NEW YORK – Mahatma Gandhi’s (Ma-hot-ma Gand-hee’s) distinctive wire-frame eyeglasses, a pair of worn leather sandals and an inexpensive pocket watch are going on the auction block in New York City.
Antiquorum Auctioneers says the auction of Gandhi’s belongings is historic because the leader of India’s independence movement didn’t have many possessions.
Art in Two Germanys Often Spoke the Same Tongue
Hans Grundig Estate and Vg Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society
“To the Victims of Fascism (Second Version),” a work from the late 1940s by Hans Grundig. More Photos>
BERLIN — East German art, like much of what used to be East Germany itself, hasn’t fared altogether well here since the Wall fell. Twenty years on, victorious Westerners, at least those old enough to remember the country divided, still tend to look with contempt on what passed for culture under Communism, as if the two, culture and Communism, were mutually exclusive. A curious hint of revenge sometimes creeps into their voices.
Call it communal myopia. A recent article in Die Zeit, a German newsweekly, lamented how the new Moritzburg Museum in Halle shortchanges its own collection of East German paintings, one of the best in the country, “in a way that is almost shameful.” The article wondered whether the curators there weren’t maybe being a little parochial and spiteful, and afraid “to revise overly quick judgments made in the years after the reunification of Germany.” That meant above all the verdict that East German art, like the whole Communist era, would be best forgotten.
The 20th Century’s Vermeer, or a Masturbatory Hack?
Ignored by the academy, scorned by knife-wielding critics, Pierre Bonnard gets the last laugh
BY MARIO NAVES
The old man faces us, naked from the waist up. His bald head, covered in shadow but sharply defined, tilts forward at a niggling angle—as if its weight were increasingly untenable. His skin is translucent and seems barely capable of holding together. Propped within an almost impossibly compressed space, the man gazes intently at nothing in particular. He is, it is clear, distracted by his own mortality.
You’d have to go to Rembrandt or Goya to find as pitiless a depiction of the human animal as Pierre Bonnard’s Portrait of the Artist in the Bathroom Mirror (Self-Portrait) (1939-46), on display in “Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors” at the Met. Is there a modern or contemporary artist who dedicated himself to flesh and bone with as much terrifying candor? German Expressionists are stylistic show-boaters in comparison; Lucian Freud, a cackhanded academician. Alice Neel? Cartoon angst. Jenny Saville? Oh, please.
Portrait of the Artist in the Bathroom Mirror (Self-Portrait) and the less scabrous if equally intenseSelf-Portrait (1938-40) are, literally speaking, the odd men out at the Met. Nowhere else in the exhibition does Bonnard plumb psyche or physiognomy with as much daunting specificity.
Quick feud recap (because there are too many to keep track of anymore): Hilary is starring in a Bonnie and Clyde remake. This caused Dunaway to allegedly cackle, ”Couldn’t they at least cast a real actress?” which got the Duffster in such a huff, she lashed out to E!’s Daily 10, “I might be mad if I looked like that now, too.”
Climate change takes a mental toll
By Emily Anthes Globe Correspondent / February 9, 2009
Last year, an anxious, depressed 17-year-old boy was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. He was refusing to drink water. Worried about drought related to climate change, the young man was convinced that if he drank, millions of people would die. The Australian doctors wrote the case up as the first known instance of “climate change delusion.”
Robert Salo, the psychiatrist who runs the inpatient unit where the boy was treated, has now seen several more patients with psychosis or anxiety disorders focused on climate change, as well as children who are having nightmares about global-warming-related natural disasters.”
Climate change could have a real impact on our psyches,” says Paul Epstein, the associate director for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.
Climate change is expected to create about 200 million environmental refugees by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body established within the United Nations to evaluate causes and consequences of global warming.
Of course, no one can predict what effect warming will have on our psyches. The links between mental illness and the weather can be tenuous or even downright contradictory. Depending on which studies you read, suicide is more common, less common, or equally common in hot weather. Ditto dry weather.Continued…
Exclusive: The Rumpus Launch Party
A number of literary figures performed at the party, including James Frey,Andrew Sean Greer, Jonathan Ames, and Starlee Kine. Comedy was provided by Kristen Schaal from the Flight of the Conchords and Michael Showalter. Music was provided by Will Sheff from Okkervill River and Timothy Bracy of The Mendoza Line.
Nothing comes from nowhere, least of all art. Every body of work has its points of origin, its logic of personal urgency and cultural impetus, the coordinates of which are often found in an artist’s childhood.
Sometimes the logic eludes us. Sometimes we can piece it together through intuition, scholarship or the clues an artist leaves behind. Occasionally a skeleton key is passed down that explains more than was ever thought possible. Such was the case with van Gogh’s letters, and in its own way, with “Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.