Sunday, May 31, 2009

Legendary Treasure

William Randolph Hearst's castle; Hearst Castle is a great diversion when visiting the central coast of California. The castle shows a taste of the life of William Randolf Hearst and his eclectic collecting passion. This magnificent estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways commands an impressive view of the Pacific Ocean as well as the hills and dales of the Santa Lucia mountain range.

"I've always been the champion"

It was billed by Major League Eating organizers as a make-or-break moment for one of their biggest stars. Passersby just saw two guys quickly gobbling lots of giant calzones.

Six-time world champion Takeru Kobayashi of Tokyo faced current No. 1 ranked Joey Chestnut of San Jose on Saturday in Culver City in what was characterized as a chance for Kobayashi to show he's still a stomach to contend with. Kobayashi, 31, won by downing almost six calzones in six minutes, a feat he accomplished by taking several mouthfuls of calzone between gulps of water.

He disagreed with the contention that he had been eating to save his name.

"I don't feel that way at all," he said through a translator. "I've always been the champion."

Afterward, he posed on stage for photographers and pretended to eat his calzone-shaped trophy. The two rivals will meet again July 4 in Coney Island for the annual hot-dog-eating contest.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

"a $480-million seaside luxury resort"

When the owners of a $480-million seaside luxury resort said they needed more money to ensure it would open, they turned to Rancho Palos Verdes.

The City Council last week unanimously agreed to give Terranea Resort what amounted to an $8-million loan by allowing Lowe Enterprises to defer payment of its hotel tax for several years. The vote came despite concerns from city staff members who said the loan was "not fiscally prudent."

The 102-acre resort is scheduled to open June 12 where the Marineland of the Pacific oceanarium once stood. It will include three restaurants, a nine-hole golf course, a 360-room hotel and 20 bungalows. Also on the grounds are 82 casitas and villas that range in price from $2 million to $4 million.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Berlin is sold on Hitler

The stage version of Mel Brooks' comedy "The Producers" - which famously contains a lavish production number called "Springtime for Hitler" - is now playing in Berlin in a theater that once contained a box for the fuhrer. Martin Sommerlatte, dressed as Hitler, plays for laughs in that big production number.

It has been a stressful few months for the man who decided to market Hitler in Berlin. But for the last several days, Falk Walter says he has enjoyed "the deepest sleep I've had for an age." The reason for his contentment is the swift box-office success of an in-your-face production of "The Producers" at his iconic Admiralspalast theater.

Friday, May 29, 2009

He was the "King of Swing"

For decades, Benny Goodman and his clarinet popped up just about everywhere, and when they did, just about everyone knew it. Goodman, who would have turned 100 on May 30, defined for most people the swing era that dominated popular American music for much of the 1930s and 1940s. From Carnegie Hall and New York's exclusive clubs to his backing up Jack Teagarden in 1933 on "Texas Tea Party," he was as versatile and prolific as he was famous.

"Goodman had a style that can be identified before his name is announced," Ben Pollack, with whom Goodman first recorded in 1926, says in Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff's 1955 classic book "Hear Me Talkin' to Ya." Whether he was the greatest of his era is subjective, but he helped bring jazz out of smoky dives and into "respectable" (white) young America, to high school and college audiences and the American mainstream. Goodman, who died of a heart attack in 1986 at age 77, relished the title "King of Swing" given him by the new white audiences who were largely unaware that black musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, were playing swing as far back as 1925.

Los Angeles Exhibit Highlights Family's Six-Generation Chinese Art Collection

Works from one of the world's great private collections of Chinese art are on display at The Huntington Library near Los Angeles. The collection is owned by Chinese American Wan-go Weng. It shows the importance of art in China and in one Chinese family, in particular.

The story of this collection isthe story of a Chinese family - the Wengs - and their fortunes during 150 turbulent years of Chinese history. The most prominent family member was Weng Tonghe, a court official who tutored and advised emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu in the waning days of imperial China. Like many scholar-officials, Weng was an art lover and he greatly expanded the collection started by his father.

Wan-go Weng, his 91-year-old great, great grandson, lives in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. His rural home has attracted lovers of Chinese art for several decades. A retired producer of educational films on Chinese history and culture, Weng is himself a collector, poet and artist. And he says he continues his family's love of art and sense of history.

Beauty and talent . . . and a big heart

Carole Bayer Sager's passion for music has given the world scores of memorable songs, including her collaborations on "Nobody Does It Better," "Don't Cry Out Loud," "That's What Friends Are For" and the Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)." And to think it all started back in the '60s when, as a high-schooler, she wrote "A Groovy Kind of Love."

But now it's a love of art that has captured her imagination, and she's channeling that passion into L.A. Art House on Beverly, where she's curating an exhibit running into July called "Wounded," featuring works by new Chinese artists.

The combination working studio (she herself often paints there) and gallery donates 100% of its profits to the Hammer Museum and its Hammer Projects program for emerging artists.

Quiet man: emotional trip

"Departures" is a gentle film about a quiet man in conflict with his world, his father, himself. It is also about death and its rituals. Yet the film manages to be anything but dark; whimsy and sweet irony are laced throughout, a warmhearted blend that turned it into the surprise winner of 2008's Oscar for foreign-language film.

Solar Power and "the salt of the earth"

Solar Two, a pilot project near Barstow, proved more than a decade ago that power can be produced by using molten salt. A Santa Monica energy firm is planning to build a larger version at an undisclosed desert site by 2013. The plant would generate enough electricity for 100,000 homes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The world is singing the praises of Canada's hottest new tenors - Destino

This dynamic group is made up of Paul Ouellette, Joey Niceforo, and Leon Leontaridis. Appearing all over the world in operas and musicals, from the Czech Republic to Rome and New York to movie appearances, these young virtuosos have also shared the stage with some of the best musicians and tenors in the world. Now they share the stage together as Destino.

Check out the latest and greatest from Canada's hottest tenors at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An expansive morality tale

"Burn, Baby, Burn," the monumental, recently acquired 1965-66 painting by Chilean-born Roberto Matta (1911-2002) was installed the other day at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on the fourth floor of the building for Art of the Americas. It's quite something -- all 320 square feet (more or less) of it.

The "Geico Skytypers "

World War II-era fighter planes are among the attractions at air shows like this one at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The Geico Skytypers (above) provide relatively cheap thrills.

They live in a cave

The Sleepers — Curtis, Deborah and their children, Kian, Perry and baby Theodore Wesley — live in a cave, a 17,000-square-foot gouge in the earth left by a 1930s sandstone mine. It’s Tom Sawyer country here in Festus, Mo., just a few miles from the Mississippi River, and the Sleepers showed their adventurous side by making their home 45 feet under a forest (and a neighbor’s home).

Hollywood studios in search of 'Harry Potter'-like success are adapting childhood classics into family-friendly films

Nickelodeon’s animated series “ Avatar: The Last Airbender” is slated for released next year as a live-action, M. Night Shyamalan-directed movie starring Dev Patel as Prince Zuko.

"those hanging-off-the-edge moments"

The decision to film two key scenes from "Star Trek" in the Dodger Stadium parking lot may not seem the logical choice, but that's just what visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett and director J.J. Abrams did. The drill platform scene with Kirk and Sulu battling Romulans high above planet Vulcan and the Delta Vega ice planet sequences were filmed there, on side-by-side sets over two weeks. "From a visual effects standpoint, you want people to believe that someone is actually standing outside on a drill platform," said Guyett, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic and second unit director. "We were looking for a piece of land that had as clean of a horizon as possible." The drill platform was a circular set 60 feet in diameter. Raising it 10 to 15 feet made it possible to shoot those hanging-off-the-edge moments. It also gave cinematographer Daniel Mindel mostly clear sky in his scope of vision. A green screen filled the bottom of the set.

-- Liesl Bradner

Long Beach at a discount

The soft real estate market has developers of upscale condominium buildings auctioning brand-new units instead of trying to sell them conventionally. Thirty-eight units were sold at auction last week in West Ocean Two, a Long Beach high-rise completed in 2008.

Original price: $512,800
Opening bid: $195,000
Winning bid: $228,000
Features: One bedroom, one bath in 893 square feet

Original price: $1,415,600
Opening bid: $625,000
Winning bid: $718,000
Features: Three bedrooms, two baths in 1,651 square feet

Friday, May 22, 2009

"a celebrated fixture"

Since its founders built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway northwest of downtown Indianapolis in 1909, the speedway and the race -- which was first held in 1911 -- remain among the sporting world's most celebrated fixtures. And for many fans, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 -- like Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, and the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters -- endure as unique institutions whose popularity surpasses that of their sports. Shown above is Ray Harroun who came out of retirement to win the first Indy 500 in 1911.

Los Angeles' California Plaza

One California Plaza (1985 - Arthur Erickson Architectural Corporation) and Two California Plaza (1992 - Arthur Erickson Architectural Corporation) are the 13th and 3rd tallest buildings in Los Angeles at 578 and 750 feet, respectively. Two California Plaza is on the left. Arthur Erickson passed away recently. He was 84.

Birds-eye View

Founded in 2007 in California, Airship Ventures Inc. operates the only passenger airship operation in the United States, featuring Eureka, the world’s largest airship. At 246 feet in length, the Zeppelin is longer than a 747, more than 50 feet longer than the largest blimp. Based out of Moffett Field, Eureka also flies out of Oakland and Monterey.

The Zeppelin’s spacious cabin comfortably accommodates one pilot, one flight attendant and twelve passengers with luxury features including oversized panoramic windows, an onboard restroom with window, and a 180-degree rear observation window and “love seat” that wraps the entire aft of the cabin. Using the inert gas helium for lift, and vectored thrust engines for flight, the Zeppelin NT has been flying since 1997, in Germany and Japan, with an unparalleled safety record.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"harsh interrogation techniques"

Reporting from New York -- It slices! It dices! It pierces and pokes! It pulls stubborn flesh from bone with the flick of a wrist!

And if that doesn't get your prisoner talking, perhaps the ornate chair with its spiked seat, back and arm rests will do the trick. The ghoulish throne and tiny flesh ripper, part of a bounty of iron torture implements dating to the 16th century, soon will be up for sale, but on one condition: The buyer must have morals as well as money -- more than $3 million, by some estimates.

At a time when America is under the microscope for harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists, the anonymous seller of the 252-item collection is adamant that it falls into responsible hands and hopeful that it will serve as a reminder of the gruesome nature of torture -- whether it's done with water and a board or an iron toe screw.

The items, including a chair with spiked seat, back and arm rests, orginated in the region of the Holy Roman Empire that became Germany. "Every one of the barbarous implements have been in actual use," says a catalog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Green Tea: the very best

South Korea: In early spring, the first leaves from the tea plant poke their heads into the sunshine of Boseong, a tiny town in the southern part of the country known for its tea fields. The leaves are harvested from early April through the first part of September, but these earliest leaves are the most prized. Handpicked by the local women who live in the South Jeolla Province, they're sold for exorbitant prices at fancy tea shops throughout the country.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The "Onegin stanza"

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse written by Alexander Pushkin. It is a classic of Russian literature, and its eponymous protagonist served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes. It was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832. The first complete edition was published in 1833, and the edition on which the current accepted version is based was published in 1837.

The work's primary defining feature is that it is almost entirely written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the unusual rhyme scheme "AbAbCCddEffEgg", where the uppercase letters represent feminine rhymes while the lowercase letters represent masculine rhymes. This form has come to be known as the "Onegin stanza" or "Pushkin sonnet." Shown above is Ilya Repin's picture of Onegin and Lensky's duel.

Twilight Magic

Thoughts of Hector Tobar: Over the years, the Dodgers have delighted me, but they've disappointed me many times more. The twilight, however, rarely fails to make the trek up and down the hills of the old Chavez Ravine worthwhile.

It's a show of natural beauty played out against the hills of Elysian Park and the downtown skyline -- and it's best seen from some of the stadium's cheapest seats.

A lot of things have changed in Los Angeles since Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962. But the experience of settling into your seat for a night game after a day of suffering down in the city below is the same as it's always been. We leave behind hot asphalt and smog for the cool air and comfort of watching a slow game unfold in a dry valley.

In a city that allows few things to grow old and familiar, twilight at Dodger Stadium is the same steady friend we've known since our childhoods.

The guy who refused to quit

It was the fourth round at the 1989 French Open, and the 17-year-old Chang already had defied long odds by pushing Ivan Lendl, the world's No. 1-ranked player, to a deciding fifth set.

With leg cramps leaving him unsteady on his feet atop the red clay at Roland Garros in Paris, Chang tried to relieve his distress by swigging water, chomping on bananas and standing during changeovers. He resorted to lofting lob shots to slow the pace and wiped out a two-set deficit against the three-time French Open champion.

Then, early in the fifth set, he figured he'd had enough.

"I was this close to going up to the chair umpire and saying, 'I can't play anymore,' " Chang, 37, says during an interview near his Mission Viejo home, holding his right thumb and forefinger millimeters apart. "I actually walked to the service line and the umpire was looking at me -- and Lendl was looking at me -- and it crossed my mind to say, 'Who am I kidding here? I'm playing against the No. 1 player in the world, I'm throwing these lob shots and I can't move worth beans.' . . .

"And I started to think to myself, 'I'll get into the locker room and people will pat me on the back. I'll get to the press conference and people will say, 'Great effort today.' "

But even at that age -- before he forged his reputation as a dogged competitor who refused to quit on points, much less matches -- Chang knew he had to carry on.

"So when I got to that service line," he says, "I had an unbelievable conviction of heart like, 'Hey, what are you doing?' It was almost as if God was saying, 'You fought this hard to win the third and fourth sets and now you're going to call it quits?' It dawned on me that if I were to quit then, it would be that much easier to quit every other time I experienced difficulty.

"And so my thought process after that was, 'Maybe I can't control the winning or losing, but I can finish the race.' "

It was a blueprint he followed the rest of his career, the Southern California-reared son of Chinese emigrants maximizing his potential as much through perseverance as skill.

Recharged mentally, he ousted Lendl in a match lasting more than 4 1/2 hours. Once, he even served underhanded, unnerving the usually stoic Lendl.

Marveled Tony Trabert, a former French Open champion, "I've never seen a player show so much courage on a tennis court."

Days later, the 15th-seeded Chang topped third-seeded Stefan Edberg in a five-set final, becoming the youngest male winner of a Grand Slam tournament and the first U.S. winner at Roland Garros in 34 years -- since Trabert won in 1955.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Future is Here

Despite challenges, San Carlos' Tesla Motors says it hopes to complete nearly 1,000 all-electric Roadsters by year’s end and to open three retail outlets, including one in Santa Monica.

Zap in Santa Rosa sells electric scooters and low-speed, three-wheel cars, and CEO Steven Schneider says Zap plans to sell a highway legal three-wheeler starting next year.

Fisker Automotive made a splash at January’s Detroit auto show with a sculptural sedan, the Karma, that it says will reach 125 miles per hour and cost $80,000. Unlike competitors’ vehicles, the Karma is a plug-in hybrid, using battery and gasoline power.

The future of transportation is now available for lease. In the next few weeks, 450 consumers in California, New York and New Jersey will begin picking up fully electric Mini coupes, charging them at home and using them as their daily commuters for the next year.

They'll pay $850 a month, plus taxes and insurance, for the right to drive the first highway-legal electric cars that don't cost more than $100,000 to hit the streets in more than a dozen years. As such, they'll serve as pioneers in what's being hailed as the next great moment in automobile history: the electric car era.

Never mind the fact that the lease cost on a Mini E is twice that of a regular Mini or that since the battery fills up the back seat, it fits just two people, said Nick Howell, a Pacific Palisades-based technology consultant who's getting one.

"I'm just excited to get a real car that is only powered by electricity," he said.

This looks like fun . . . (commented little Bryan De Witt)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Winging it in Healdsburg, California

Diana Friedberg's family woke up last Thanksgiving to the sound of fluttering wings. The family was spending the weekend on their farm, called Stillerus, in Healdsburg, north of San Francisco. "Thousands of starlings flew in and spent the day picking the last of the grape crop in our valley," says Friedberg, of Woodland Hills. "They circled and danced in the sky all day long. It was a magical experience." As the sun set, the birds set off south on their migratory path. She used a Panasonic Lumix to capture the shot.

Italy: In the land of mozzarella

Buildings rise up from the emerald coast of Salerno, Italy, a center of mozzarella di bufala production along with Caserta farther inland in the Campania region.
(Gaetano Barone/Corbis)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Alfa Romeo MiTo

The Alfa Romeo MiTo — pronounced “Me-Toe,” a hip mash-up of the city names Milan and Turin (Torino) — is aimed like a tiny cruise missile at the BMW Mini. Styled by Alfa designer Juan Manuel Diaz, the hatchback MiTo is an ecstatic shape, full of consonant lines and completed ideas, like a good piece of music. Price: $22,000 - $30,000

"On a clear day you can see forever"

The Statue of Liberty is one of those places real New Yorkers never go, but the reopening of its crown-level observation deck might be enough incentive to hop the ferry over to Liberty Island, tourist throngs be damned. As the AP points out, the crown has been closed to the public since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but as of July 4, 2009, 30 visitors an hour will be allowed to ascend the 168-step spiral staircase to the gray iron observation deck, where spectacular views of New York Harbor extend for miles.

Dominic DiMaggio 1917-2009 -- Baseball's "most underrated great player." -- Curt Gowdy

Dominic DiMaggio, left, seen in 1949, still holds the Boston Red Sox team record for the longest consecutive-game hitting streak, but was overshadowed by the towering legend of his brother Joe, the Yankee Clipper.

A daring leadoff hitter who was the sparkplug for the Red Sox from 1940 to 1953, Dom DiMaggio had a .298 lifetime batting average and still holds the Boston record for hitting in 34 consecutive games. He set the mark in 1949, eight seasons after his brother Joe set the consecutive game standard by hitting in 56 straight for the New York Yankees. Joe ended Dom's streak when he caught a sinking line drive off his brother's last at-bat on Aug. 9, 1949, in a game the Red Sox ultimately won.

Dom DiMaggio also was one of the few players to average 100 runs a season for his career. In the 10 seasons he played, he had more hits than anyone else with 1,679. And he held the American League record for RBIs by a leadoff man until another Boston player, Nomar Garciaparra, broke it.

DiMaggio also was one of the finest center fielders to play the game. Gifted with a rifle arm and extraordinary quickness, he set an American League record for center fielders in 1948 with 503 putouts. The mark stood until 1977, when it was broken by Chet Lemon of the Chicago White Sox, who notched 512 putouts.

"a botched 'photo op' that frightened New Yorkers"

Reporting from Washington -- An Obama administration official who took the blame for the Air Force One flyover in Lower Manhattan last month gave his resignation Friday, after a White House investigation into a botched photo op that frightened New Yorkers with its echo of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Louis Caldera, a former California assemblyman from Los Angeles, wrote to the president that he could no longer perform effectively as head of the White House Military Office. In his letter, Caldera said the episode had "become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president."

A concept everyone can support

An undated photo provided by Texas-based Smart Start, Inc., shows the company's Smart Start 20/20 Ignition Interlock device, a small handheld breath alcohol monitoring device that is wired to a vehicle's ignition system. A new law in Illinois that began Jan. 1, 2009, requires breathalyzer gadgets in cars for anyone convicted of drunk driving even once. Smart Start is one of several companies that provide the devices.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) has a bill that would require people convicted of drunk driving to install a device in their car that would prevent them from firing up the ignition without first breathing into a tube to prove they're fit to drive. Spare us the outrage about humiliation and government intrusion. Drunk driving is against the law, and for good reason. The bill deserves support.

(AP Photo/Smart Start, Inc.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

the "Totems"

The desolate, semi-arid land once inhabited by the Fremont Indians contains areas of spectacular beauty. There are more National Parks (Zions, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands), National Monuments, and State Parks in the homeland of the Fremont Indians than any other area of North America. Shown above is the "Totems" in Utah.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Inspector spots feathers peeking out from his trousers

LOS ANGELES - A man was charged Tuesday with smuggling songbirds into the United States by hiding more than a dozen of them in an elaborate, custom-tailored pair of leggings during a flight from Vietnam to Los Angeles.

Sony Dong, 46, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in March after an inspector spotted bird feathers and droppings on his socks and tail feathers peeking out from under his pants, prosecutors said.

"He had fashioned these special cloth devices to hold the birds," said U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek. "They were secured by cloth wrappings and attached to his calves with buttons."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"The Last Iceberg"

"The Last Iceberg," the first Los Angeles solo exhibition by photographer Camille Seaman opened Saturday at the Richard Heller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, B-5A, Santa Monica. Pictured above is "Grounded Iceberg," East Greenland, August 24, 2006 -- the exhibition runs through May 30. Call (310) 453-9191 or go to

"aeronautic excellence"

A C-17 Globemaster III airlifter on Tuesday surpassed the 50,000 flight hour mark for the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force C-17 fleet. Aircraft ZZ175 marked the milestone during a mission from Afghanistan. During the eight years since the first C-17 delivery to the UK, the RAF's fleet of six C-17s has flown more than 22 million nautical miles (25 million miles or 41 million kilometers)."

Not for visitors with vertigo

No trip to Chicago is complete without experiencing what Chicago Tribune readers voted one of the '7 Wonders of Chicago'! Treat yourself to unparalleled, 360-degree views of up to four states from the top of Sears Tower, the Western Hemisphere's Tallest Building. Skydeck exhibits showcase the city's rich history and bring Chicago's spectacular skyline to life.

And soon visitors to the top of the tallest building in North America won't be able to avoid looking straight down. The Sears Tower plans this summer to add four enclosed glass-bottomed balconies jutting out from the building's 103rd-floor Skydeck -- offering a view of 1,353 feet down. Each balcony will be able to hold about five tons and the glass will be half an inch thick.

Manta, the "flying coaster"

In summer 2009, SeaWorld will up the thrill quotient with Manta, a themed flying coaster. What's a flying coaster, you ask? Passengers will be harnessed in a prone position under the coaster train as they soar through the air and skim along the water.


Say ‘aloha’ to Hawaiian luxury for less. These economically downtrodden days, you can get more for your money all over the islands, even at the first-class Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. The AAA five-diamond and Mobil five-star property is offering its cheapest rates in four years.

Friday, May 01, 2009