And twitter it

I have a very wise friend who lives in in a mcmansion located a stone’s throw from from Henry David Thoreau’s little cabin. Despite this ironic fact, my friend is closer in spirit to the famous engineer, pencil magnate, and philosopher, as he often scoffed at my blogging and social network participation.

As an explanation on why I don’t blog much, here’s what Henry David Thoreau thought about twitter and the rest:

“My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.”

Best Nickname Ever

When I was in school, I always considered History to be one of the easiest subjects, and also one of the most boring ones. Most teachers that I had concentrated on having us memorize facts and dates, and did not really try to make History interesting. I did have a couple of good History teachers in college, one of whom won a Pulitzer prize. Another made me regret not having the time to get a proper classical education.

In any case, the biggest problem I have with history books is that everything in them is sanitized. I like my historical works HBO-style, with all the filth intact, like in Deadwood and Rome.

Let me give you an example. I was reading “The Tolstoys: Twenty Four Generations of Russian History” by Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky. The Tolstoy family were always very important in Russian history. They seem to possess some talents that seem to be passed on genetically. These talents seem to fall into three categories: writing, politics, and to the lesser extent art. From founding the fist Russian secret police, through writing dozens of world-changing books, to revolutionizing Russian web design, Tolstoys left a deep mark. By reading this book I understood how much this one family line changed Russia and the world.

But what I found the most enjoyable was not that, but a little episode about Ilya Miloslavskiy, the book author’s illustrious ancestor. Boyar Miloslavskiy was sort of an olde tyme oligarch. In 1600s he headed all of Russia’s most important (and profitable) ministries, Military, Medical, Treasury, etc. He was a man of limitless appetites, and stole amazing amount of money. Miloslavsky’s boss, tzar Alexei was not bothered as much by stealing, as he was by amoral behavior.

Tolstoy quotes Dr. Collins, a royal physician and apparently Miloslavsky’s employee:

“at last perceiving Eliah too kind to some of his Tartar and Polish slaves, he urged him (being and old Widdower) either to marry or refrain the Court. For the Russians highly extoll marriage, partly to people their Territories, and partly to prevent Sodomy and Buggery, to which they are naturally inclined, nor is it punished there with Death. A lusty Fellow about eight years since being at this beastly sport with a Cow, cry’d to one that saw him ‘Ne Mishchay, do not interrupt me; and now he is known by no other name over all Muscovy, than ‘Ne Mishchay’ “.

Rupert Murdoch the Communist

Do you know the famous misquote that goes something like: “A young man who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn’t got a head”?

Well, apparently, at some point young Rupert Murdoch was a huge fan of Lenin. The following quote is from Murdoch: Revised and Updated, page 38:

“He added an an extraordinary postscript, written in magenta ink, reaffirming his loyalty to Lenin. “Yesterday was the 29th anniversary of the Great Teacher. We stood to attention for one minute in front of THE BUST on the mantelpiece and drank several toasts-and then settled down to some good reading of adulatory Russian poetry.””

Picturing Rupert reading “adulatory Russian poetry” and owning a bust of Lenin brings a tear to my eye.

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia

A New York Times Notable Book, 1997

The lavishly illustrated and often darkly hilarious retelling of Soviet history through the doctored photographs under Stalin.

The Commissar Vanishes has been hailed as a brilliant, indispensable record of an era. The Commissar Vanishes offers a unique and chilling look at how one man–Joseph Stalin–manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and erase the memory of his victims. Over the past thirty years David King has assembled the world’s largest archive of doctored Soviet photographs, the best of which appear here, in a book Tatyana Tolstaya, in The New York Review of Books, called “an extraordinary, incomparable volume.”

Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960

Weegee’s New York: Photographs 1935–1960

Weegee’s legendary camera recorded an unmatched pictorial chronicle of a legendary time. Weegee’s New York is the New York of the thirties and forties, a city marked by the Great Depression, by unemployment and poverty, by mob violence and prostitution. He was the first news photographer allowed a police radio in his car. Racing through Manhattan’s streets after midnight, he often beat the cops to the scene of the crime to shoot the pictures which would scream from the pages of the Daily News and the Daily Mirror next morning. They still jump from the page with a restless immediacy and intense nervousness that has never been surpassed. The 335 photographs collected in this new softcover reprint tell the astonishing story of New York during one of its most violent and exciting periods. The introductory essay is by the former editor of Art Forum, John Coplans.

Essay by Weegee

Weegee (1899-1968),was born Arthur Fellig in what is now a part of Poland and arrived in New York at the age of ten. During his ten years at Manhattan’s police headquarters he published 5,000 photos that made him the most famous of a new breed of hardboiled news photographers. His book Naked City (later made into a film) was published in 1945, followed in 1953 by Naked Hollywood.

John Coplans, born in 1920 in England, immigrated to the US in 1960. In 1962 he founded the periodical Artforum serving as its editor until 1980. He was director of the Art Gallery of University of California at Irvine; senior curator at the Pasadena Art Museum; and director of the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. At age sixty he took up photography full-time.

335 duotone plates.

Young Count Leo Tolstoy

For years I’ve been reading Count Nikolai Tolstoy’s “The Tolstoys, twenty-four generations of Russian history, 1353-1983” on and off. Amongst other interesting and surprising things that I’ve learned from the book was what Leo Tolstoy looked like when he was young. I used to think of him as and intense old dude sporting Karl Marx/Saddam in hiding/Fidel Castro hairstyle. It turns out that in his youth he looked more like Matt Damon:

Dreamblog: Having a Ball

Two nights in a row I had dreams about attending balls. The first dream had me hanging out with Count Pyotr Andreyevich Tolstoy in 1700s. This is pretty easy to explain — I am reading a book about the Tolstoys.

This morning I had another dream, where I was at a Newscorp ball at the Hilton and talked to Rupert Murdoch. He completely agreed with all the things that I proposed to be done at TV Guide and I woke up very pleased with myself.

Civic Fame

Municipal Building in Manhattan is said to be the one that directly influenced Soviet architecture because Stalin really liked its look. What was called “City Beautiful” style in America in 1880s, with some alterations became known as Stalin’s Empire, Stalinist Baroque, Socialist Classicism and simply as Mustachioed One’s Wedding Cakes. In fact there are 7 buildings in Moscow that look very much like it.

These 7 sisters, as the buildings are known are shrouded in legend. I’ve heard that because of the lack of metal girders their walls are tremendously thick at the bottom. I’ve heard that they go down into the ground as far as they go into the sky, that there are old explosive self-destruct charges left over in some of them, that there is a huge monument to Stalin stored in one of the huge cellars. I’ve heard that the super secret “Metro 2”, the secret subway running underneath them.

It’s very ironic that Stalin picked this very American, capitalist style for his favorite buildings. Even more ironic is the way that the Objectivists lead by Ayn Rand picked an art aestetic art aestetic very similar to socialist realism, maybe with a little more art deco thrown in.

There is a common theme that runs through Ayn Rand’s life and work – grand ideas and ideals not realized. Rand herself, was so obsessed with capital and investement, yet never invested much of her money. She opposed government monetary control, yet supported Objectivist #2 – Alan Greenspan himself.

Rand’s work is full of references to things that never came to life. In “Fountainhead”, Roark’s boss, Henry Cameron, has a blueprint of an unbuilt skyscraper on his wall. Also in that book, there’s the statue of “Industry” that never went in to the lobby of the fictional Cosmo-Slotnick Building, described as “.. a slender naked body of a man who looked as if he could break through the steel plate of a battleship …”.

I am endlessly fascinated with ghostly architecture. There’s a special space in my mind’s eye for ghost structures. The fictional ones, like Henry Cameron’s Dana Building. The destroyed ones – the World Trade Center, the Singer Building, the old Penn Station, the Zeppelin mooring tower on top of the Empire State Building, and many more. And the ones that were never built – like the 8th Stalinist sister, the Palace of the Soviets, with a gigantic statue of Lenin so big and so high up top, that it needs shortened legs and torso to preserve the perspective.

The very real Municipal Building also has a giant statue on its top. While not as huge as the Lenin one, still, in New York it’s only second to the Statue of Liberty in size. The statue by Adolf A. Weinman is called “Civic Fame”. She battled wind, rain, snow and smog for almost a hundred years now. Her hand dropped through a skylight in a cafeteria on 26th floor in ’36 and had to be repaired, and in ’91 she took a helicopter ride up and down for cleaning and further restorations.

The model for “Civic Fame”, Audrey Munson, had an even harder and more intense life. At the turn of the century she was a supermodel for sculptors and painters. In some sense that yielded a much more permanent record of her than most of today’s supermodels will enjoy as there are literally dozens of important sculptures of her in New York City and around the world bearing her likeness. When the movies came about, she became an actress and entered history books as the first known woman to star in a movie naked. Well, tastefully, as an artist’s model.

There’s a book about her life, the Wikipedia article, this woman had the most unusual and tragic life. From the height of fame, through the court case involving a doctor who killed his wife to be with her, to financial destitution and into the mental asylum at 39 where she died at the age of 104 (!).

I wonder what she felt like standing in front of the Municipal building, knowing that it was her at the very top, with a shield and a crown.

The city website says that the crown has some dolphins on it, but even with this magnification I can’t see them.

All I know is, now I just have to find as many instances of Audrey Munson in New York City’s buildings and museums. That will be an interesting photographic project. I wonder if it’s her on the Eastern Airlines Building mural.