Archive for July, 2009

Hearst & Gamble: Stories of Collaboration

Hearst Castle

Yesterday, while on vacation in California, I had the privilege to visit the Gamble House in Pasadena.  The day before, Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  The juxtaposition of the two, whose architects were contemporaries, was startling.  Hearst spent $4.7 million building the Enchanted Hill from 1919 to 1947.  The Gambles spent $50,400 (still a small fortune for the time) on an unpretentious bungalow built in 11 months in 1908.  Hearst Castle is filled with priceless artifacts from Europe, the Gamble House a unified masterwork executed to perfection from the design for the carpets and furniture to the workbench in the garage.

What the two structures have in common is that they both respond to the mood of their occupants.  Whether contemplative, social, or just comforting–both places are masterpieces.  Hearst would fly his guests in from Los Angeles and elsewhere for lavish parties.  Lindbergh and Earhart are examples of the combinations of guests that, I’m sure, made for amazing conversations.  

While Greene & Greene are famous for the Gamble House, Julia Morgan, educated at Ecole des Beaux Arts, architect of Hearst Castle is less well known.  But perhaps most overlooked are the Hall Brothers, Swedish immigrants, who actually built the Gamble House and its furniture.  And, Emil Lange who executed the leaded glass masterpieces throughout the house.  The patience and sympathetic ear of Julia Morgan brought Hearst’s immense resources and vision to fruition.  The collaboration between architect and craftsman is the true story of the Gamble House.

Gamble House

Gamble House Front Door Fascade

Gamble House Front Door

Emil Lange Leaded Glass

Avoiding the Riff-Raff

Colin Peterson, Representative from northwestern Minnesota, and Chair of the Agriculture committee, was quoted in Politco describing his district (and perhaps why he’s a Blue Dog Democrat):

Twenty-five percent of my people believe the Pentagon and Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down, That’s why I don’t do town meetings.

Kinda disturbing…like a blue dog with yellow eyes staring you in the face, eh?

BlueDogI prefer Huckleberry Hound:

Huckleberry Hound

Trillion Is the New Billion

Artifacts of the Human Beast

MoonOn the 40th anniversay of Apollo 11, I humbly submit for Fight Club’s consideration, Craig Nelson’s “Rocket Men.” In his review in last week’s Book Review, Thomas Mallon writes:

Walter Cronkite’s prediction, that after Apollo 11 “everything else that has happened in our time is going to be an asterisk,” wound up playing out backward. In our pop-historical memory of the 1960s, Project Apollo is the footnote, an oddball offshoot from assassinations, Vietnam and Charles Manson. Since 1972, no human has traveled beyond low-Earth orbit, a situation that makes one imagine what things might be like if, after Lindbergh’s flight, the species had contentedly gone back to making do with boats and trains.

As if to concede, in retrospect, that Apollo 11 wasn’t as important as other events (Sesame Street, The Brady Bunch, Woodstock) in 1969, the New York Times is celebrating not just Apollo 11 but the entire year of 1969 in an interactive timeline with images, video and audio.

The moon launch was just [my emphasis] one event in 1969 — a year of enormous cultural innovation and change. The music, movies and events that seemed to sum up the chaos, creativity, violence and hopefulness of the decade.

But the most poignant summary of the intervening years since Apollo, is from the author of “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe.  On Saturday, he wrote an opinion piece in the Times One Giant Leap to Nowhere” in which he argues that what NASA is missing is a philosopher that can make the case for sending a man to Mars and beyond.  Wolfe asks:

At this point, the mental atmospheres of the rocket-powered space race of the 1960s and the sword-clanking single combat of ancient days became so similar you had to ask: Does the human beast ever really change — or merely his artifacts?

Never Up Never In

I play golf in a club whose average age is probably 60.  We played a Stableford tournament yesterday, and when we came into the clubhouse we watched Tom Watson, still leading the British Open, hit a beautiful 8 iron into the 18th green.  But, perhaps landing a foot too far into the green, the ball ran off the back, nestling up against a skirt of rough.  He opted for his putter and sent the ball 8 feet past the hole.  He has made a thousand 8-foot putts in his career.  What’s more, he’s a 59 year-old, five-time Open winner – nerves of steel, right?

Lo, a collective gasp went up in the clubhouse of 60 year-olds, when Watson, like all of us amateurs sitting there watching him, decelerated his putter and pushed it slightly leaving his par putt short and right of the hole, taking the Open to four extra holes with Stewart Cink, a 6-foot-4 whippersnapper.  And, to the chagrin of every member of the Phalen Park Men’s Golf Club, Watson collapsed in the playoff, handing the Open Championship to Mr. Cink.

Feeling a Little Peckish

Fight Club is in full training mode preparing for the next bout: “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan.  As with any good training regimen, I’ve been watching what I eat.  But the nutrition information on the food-like products I’ve been eating are of little help.  And this article by Bijal Trivedi in the New Scientist calls into question even the accuracy of the calorie stats on these products.  Trivedi gives us a little history on how calories are calculated (a dirty job as it turns out):

Calorie counts on food labels around the world are based on a system developed in the late 19th century by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater. Atwater calculated the energy content of various foods by burning small samples in controlled conditions and measuring the amount of energy released in the form of heat. To estimate the proportion of this raw energy that was used by the body, Atwater calculated the amount of energy lost as undigested food in faeces, and as chemical energy in the form of urea, ammonia and organic acids found in urine, and then he subtracted these figures from the total. Using this method, Atwater estimated that carbohydrates and protein provide an average of 4 kcal per gram, while fat provides 9 kcal per gram. With a few modifications, these measurements of what is known as metabolisable energy have been the currency of food ever since. 

But the human body does not incinerate food, we digest it.  And, as you would expect, different foods digest differently.  Trivedi goes on “And digestion – from chewing food to moving it through the gut and chemically breaking it down along the way – takes a different amount of energy for different foods…lowering the number of calories your body extracts from a meal by anywhere between 5 and 25 per cent depending on the food eaten…and, yet are not reflected on any food label.”

Like Rocky Balboa, when training for a fight, I like to crack a few raw eggs into my protein shake.  But, according to Trivedi, I’m only getting half the calories I would from a cooked egg.  Better to follow Pollan’s guidance and just “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Nutrition

Old Ben Kenobi

We’ve written about Shepard Fairy’s work on Broken Spines before…I just came across this spoof on ffffound.com and had to share:

Obi

The Worst and the Dimmest

A couple of us at Broken Spines read McNamara’s In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam and we’re not sure whether McNamara ought to be vilified for his role as architect of the Vietnam War or forgiven because he regretted many of the decisions he made.  McNamara was part of the east coast establishment that JFK christened “the best and the brightest.”  They were arrogant technocrats that thought they could manage war like a business.  I suppose I could forgive him if he had really helped the country learn the lessons of Vietnam.  Donald Rumsfeld’s term as Secretary of Defense bears striking similarities to that of Robert McNamara–and he made all of the same mistakes–much to the shame of Robert McNamara.

John McCain wrote the foreword to David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest’s 20th Edition. In it McCain wrote:

It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay.

Self Mastery

I’ve been struggling with what to say about Sarah Palin’s resignation and the passion of Mark Sanford.  So much has already been said.  Ross Douthat suggests that what did Palin in was elitist classism.  Stanley Fish defends both Palin and Sanford, saying that we should simply take them at their word and that in the end we’re all flawed human beings who deserve some sympathy.  But, perhaps the most eloquent appraisal of these two Governors was David Brooks’ column “In Search of Dignity.”  

Brooks harkens back to George Washington and his 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”  He laments that Palin and Sanford “simply have no social norms to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.”  He goes on to say that our culture is “hostile to aristocratic manners” and that shameless self promotion is de rigueur.  So, to whom do we look for an example of civility and self mastery?  Brooks points us to Obama:

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.

Recession Holding Back Education Too…

Great… not only is the recession hurting my income today but it is likely to have a much larger economic impact on education (and thus earning potential) of future generations.  It a NY Times article last week titled “Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School” many schools are cutting back or closing their summer school programs to save money.  This is being done in spite of $100 billion in stimulus money being pumped into education and the Secretary of Education urging states and districts to keep their summer school programs open.

Summer school you say?  Who really really cares about summer school… unless of course you are talking about the classic 1987 movie Summer School with Marc Harmon and Kristy Alley.  The reality is that summer school can be critically important to those kids coming from low-income households.  In our most recent bout, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell we learned that the knowledge gap between the kids from the poorest families to the richest families is almost exclusively attributed to what knowledge is gained or lost during the summer (not technology in the classroom or classroom size).  As the Times article points out, children of working parents will be at the mall or in front of the TV instead of in the classroom preparing them for the next grade level.

If Gladwell’s analysis is correct, why is it that state governments or school districts would make such a short sighted decision?  Perhaps his research hasn’t made it back to the education establishment?


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