Category Archives: history

May Day Democrazy

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I like the posters. And if I were twenty years old I would probably like the ideology. But it’s not what it appears to be. The Occupy movement and it’s union allies are not the wave of the future. They are a rotten remnant of a past that failed. Don’t get sucked in, my friends, because this is not the kind of revolution we need. It is up to us, the true ninety-nine percent, not the ten or twenty percent holding the signs, that have it within our power to set things right, and initiate a true revolution. A revolution that does not involve violence. A revolution that empowers instead of courting confrontation. The black bloc portion of the Occupy non=movement is nothing more than a bunch of storm troopers disguised as anarchists. They are the present day version of Robespierre’s bloodthirsty followers in the French revolution of 1789. These goons are not interested in our freedom, only their own. If you oppose their tactics, they will roughly push you aside, and ultimately they will be more than glad to march you to their makeshift guillotine. Don’t believe a single word these black bloc morons have to say. They are not on the side of the ninety=nine percent, they are not on the side of the unions, the honest hard working men and women, or the unemployed. They have no allies. They fight for the sake of fighting, for the thrill of mayhem, and the tremendous rush they get from confronting the police. They have poisoned the Occupy non-movement.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in agreement with those who oppose the oligarchs. The oligarchs being the super rich goons who essentially control virtually all of the wealth in this country, and indeed, most of the world as well. I wish I could support this non-movement, but I can see how it has been usurped by those with their own insidious agenda. Capitalism is not the enemy. Socialism is not the enemy. We need both. The abuse of capitalism and socialism is the enemy. Capitalism is no longer working when a tiny minority hold almost all the wealth. That is not the sign of a free market. That is the sign of a rigged market. Socialism provides a foundation of basic human needs from which you can begin to truly participate in the free market economy. When you have a country in which people cannot feed, clothe, or provide shelter for themselves it is a failed state as far I am concerned. Once basic needs are covered, which includes basic health care, then people can be free to thrive, to be productive citizens, and consumers. The free market could provide this but it doesn’t, and so the government should step in to fill that vacuum. If businessmen don’t like that, they need to find a better way, So far their ideas haven’t been enough. But the Occupy non-movement would tear everything down and leave us all in tents, playing hackeysack, and examining each other’s auras for a clue about what to do next, I once was like them, and wondered why we couldn’t just do away with government and business and just live off the land in a kind of hippie paradise. What actually happens is that you end up with some real power hungry boneheads taking control of things for everyone else’s good, and terrorizing anyone who opposes them. So-called anarchy always degenerates into dictatorship. This happened with both the French and Russian revolutions. So this whole thing about not working, not shopping, not going to school, etc. just sucks. Why does it suck? Because I spent plenty of time doing exactly that against my will while I was unemployed and before I was in school. All you do is sit and seethe in your hatred of those who have it better than you. You imagine that there is some kind of conspiracy against you. You’re useless. You don’t contribute a damn thing to anybody. I prefer to find a way to empower my fellow human beings. They plan on shutting down the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow, and I will be royally pissed if they vandalize the bridge. They have succeeding in alienating the very people they seek to recruit. Because they are unbelievably stupid. Most ideologues are. They are the ones with the loudest voices, and I admit it, some of the coolest propaganda, but they aren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack. Try having a conversation with one of these people. It is like having a conversation with a rabid, incessantly barking dog. You get nowhere. When I was young I was a protester. I protested to end the war in Vietnam. At first, I thought this non=movement going on today was pretty cool, but not any longer. Now I think they are distracting us from the work we really should be doing. Instead of resorting to the same old bullshit that was tried by the French and the Russians, let’s find a new and better way forward. Terrorism does not work in the long term. It turns the people against you, and even if you should manage to get your hands on the levers of power, the people will find a way to bring you down ultimately. I am suspicious of any group that claims to speak for all of us regular people. They don’t speak for me, I didn’t elect them. I think the tactics of the Occupy non-movement are going to hurt the people they most need to have on their side. People need to work, they need to get educated. They don’t want to squat in your tent and play a drum and chant. They don’t want to repeat every mindless monologue every random ideologue comes up with. This is not democracy, it is democrazy. It is rule by the rude and crude, in which the loudest jackass wins. So I would encourage you to spend May Day shopping, going to work as usual, and finding ways to empower, enlighten, and contribute to your fellow humans. Don’t be the lead weight that drags all the rest of us down. I am not an ally of the rich plutocrats like Donald Trump or Mitt Romney for that matter. But what this misguided non-movement is doing is pushing the average American straight into the arms of the Republicans. Anger at left wing boneheadedness might just get Mitt Romney elected. Somehow, I am not certain how, this leaderless movement got some really crappy leadership, and they are driving this movement into the ground. Don’t play along! These are not our friends! The black bloc portion of this group should be opposed in every way possible before they succeed in sabotaging the few good aims this so-called leaderless movement has. It just makes me mad!! So you find yourself leading a clueless life without meaning or purpose? Does this mean I should allow you to bust up my home, or place of business, or ruin my day because you are a hopeless fuck-up? I think not. I agree with some of what has been said by this non-movement, but it has been hijacked, and the right people need to take that non-movement back and transform it into something the average American can heartily support. There has to be a better way for us to take back America! But like I said at the outset, they do have some pretty cool posters.

It is so easy to be idealistic

Swing your partner dosey doe

Shout at the devil

Let the blood flow!

Revolution can be easy if we all just join our hands

If you give up all your hopes and dreams

and surrender to our plan

For we are the people, and you are not

We call the shots, we write the plot,

We are the ninety nine percent

You are just a dot

We speak for all and for all we will kill

Ain’t no big deal

If a few things get broken

This is our revolution, like it or not.

Black and White World in Color

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Life magazine published quite a few color photos in the thirties. This one brings out the kitsch of Nazi German uniforms in a way black and white cannot.

All of us are used to thinking of the distant past in black and white. So much so that it comes as a shock when we suddenly see the world as it was, in color. This has become a bit of a fetish with me, I especially like recovering the color in washed out color photos from many decades ago. It is also a thrill to come across color video from a time we are accustomed to thinking of as black and white. Not long ago I harvested a batch of old color photos from the thirties. I was especially interested in the color photos from the Third Reich. We all have such an emotional reaction to that horrendous regime, and yet, if you are like me, you are also fascinated by it. The kitsch of the Third Reich, it’s overstated visual element is especially apparent when viewed in color. Black and white photos and movies place a distant between us and that time, whereas color helps to place us in that time. Color helps to bring out the gaudiness and kitsch of the Nazi era in the above photo. In the short film promoting the 1936 Olympics we obtain a glimpse in color of what the Third Reich truly looked like. Of course it is propaganda, and I am not promoting Nazism by posting this material. My point is to show the past in color instead of black and white in order to give the viewer a clearer view of how the past actually looked. Next I will show a less controversial choice, life in the good old USA in the thirties.

A Vermont family at the state fair in the 1930's

Shifting our attention to the United States, I have included a fascinating photo taken a the state fair in Vermont in the thirties. The Depression in particular is thought of in black and white terms and here we can get an idea of how the thirties looked. Take a look at the matching pink dresses, undoubtedly home made.

Here is a farm scene from the Great Depression in the thirties

This serves as a reminder that the past is but a continuation of the present, instead of a strange black and white world of it’s own. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 deserves it’s own post, but here is a short color film which takes you back to that time in a way black and white could never do, and then another video of that fair and other events in the US in the thirties, in color.

I am fairly certain that all of this material is in the public domain, except for the Life magazine photo.

The SF Armory

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From sfarmory.com The Armory as it appeared in the 1920's

In keeping with the post on the Golden Gate Bridge, I am posting about the SF Armory in light of the fact that I applied for a job as a tour guide. The Armory cannot and does not escape your attention as you walk down Mission or Valencia Streets. It is huge! It is a fortress out of a fairy tale. It looks dark and forbidding. You can only guess at the dark goings-on within those walls.  It was built in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, as a home for the National Guard. Not only was this a place to keep the massive naval guns, horses, and other ordinance, it had a splendid drill court where the men could practice close-order drill. But times changed and the needs for the armory changed with it. It became a place for the guard to relax, use the swimming pool. This huge, well equipped facility was an excellent recruiting tool for the Guard. In the thirties and forties it was used for dances and prize fights. It was even regarded as the Madison Square Garden of the West. However, after the Second World War and Korean conflicts, the National Guard saw a need for a modern armory, with more parking and a more suitable design for modern needs. However, plans to tear down the structure were fiercely resisted by the local people of the Mission. They succeeded in having the Armory granted landmark status in 1978. Although George Lucas used the drill court for some scenes in the first Star Wars movie, plans to convert the armory into a film studio fell through.  It seemed that no one could think of a good use for the massive structure, and in 1980 it was declared surplus property by San Francisco, and put up for sale. However various ideas over the years fell through. The cost of seismic refitting, and other renovations needed to bring the building up to code was too formidable for prospective buyers. At one point, someone considered using the building to house servers for the internet. There is a vision of Big Brother for you, computer servers buzzing away within a dark forbidding fortress. But that didn’t happen. Instead the building remained unused until 2007 when Armory Studios, LLC purchased the armory. It became the film studio, and office space for Kink.com, where the work is literally cutting edge. This website offers very high quality, high definition, video of some the most extreme sadomasochistic sexual fantasies you can find on the net. Needless to say, this has been the source of controversy. The armory was picketed by those who opposed this use, and didn’t want a porno film studio in their neighborhood. However, unlike the Power Exchange, which had operated at a location not far away from the armory for many years, this was not a sex club with patrons hanging about the entrance late at night. This was a professional studio and not a magnet for crime of any sort. Unless of course you consider the creation of pornography a crime in itself. Which I don’t. The Armory has had a colorful, eventful history. Personally, I would love to see it used for public events as well as a studio. I suspect Kink.com could find a way to do this if it so desired.

In Praise of Hypatia

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Hypatia by Charles William Mitchell 1885

Hypatia was a philosopher and astronomer who died in the fifth century AD. She favored the earlier pagan ways, as well as the philosophy of Plato, and could be considered a forerunner of present-day feminism. She boldly confronted ignorance whenever she found it, especially ignorance concerning women. She fiercely opposed the treatment of women as secondary citizens or even as less than human. This caused her to be despised by the early Christian church and they found a way to justify her murder, in the name of Christianity. In today’s evangelical Christian revival under Rick Santorum Hypatia is particularly relevant. She stood for logic, and the ideal, and honest, undistorted sexuality. Her death is considered by some historians to be the benchmark for the end of the Classical Age, and the beginning of the Dark Ages. We need women like Hypatia today. We need brave people in general, who can speak intelligently about things, as the ancient philosophers endeavored to do. Christianity and Islam dealt a death blow to free thinking. I would like to see a resurgence of paganism, intelligent paganism, which would recognize the positive attributes of religion, while opposing the tyranny which often accompanies church, mosque, or synagogue. I wish to learn more about Hypatia, but when I was researching pre-Raphaelite painting I came across Hypatia. It intrigued me, and I read a little about her. We need to recapture the spirit of ancient Greece, for the Dark Ages are not entirely over.


Wilde, Lilith, Rossetti, and Strauss

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Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (face enlarged)

THE HARLOT’S HOUSE

by: Oscar Wilde

E caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The “Treues Liebes Herz” of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

The took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
“The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.”

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.
‘The Harlot’s House’ was originally published in The Dramatic Review (April, 1885).

Lady Lilith, 1866-68 (altered 1872-73)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Oil on canvas, 38 x 33 1/2 inches
Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935

Lilith, the subject of this painting, is described in Judaic literature as the first wife of Adam. She is associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children. The depiction of women as powerful and evil temptresses was prevalent in 19th-century painting, particularly among the Pre-Raphaelites. The artist depicts Lilith as an iconic, Amazon-like female with long, flowing hair. Her languid nature is reiterated in the inclusion of the poppy in the lower right corner—the flower of opium-induced slumber.

http://www.delart.org/collections/preraph/lady_lilith.html  The Link is for the Delaware Art Museum

This is the first of my attempts to put together art, poetry, and music of the same period, in this case the late Nineteenth Century. The music is by Richard Strauss, Dance of the Seven Veils.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (taken from Wikipedia)

 The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of painters, poets, and critics formed in 1848. They wished to restore art and literature to a more spiritual form of expression, instead of the rather formal constraints of academic art. Certain simple conventions prevailed in art beginning with Raphael. There was a tendency to avoid ostentation or excessive realism in any form. The Pre-Raphaelite wanted to return to a style that sought to depict nature as accurately as possible with extreme detail, realism, and spectacular color. All of this was in the service of a more spiritual result. They were in the vanguard of the Romantic movement in the arts. The Brotherhood didn’t last that long, by the end of the 1860’s they had more or less gone their separate ways, but their work inspired the later Symbolists and eventually the Decadence movement. The primary artists within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. What I really like about these artists are how they depict the female form. They conveyed the magical quality of a woman’s face. There is a rich sensuality to their works due to the hyperrealism (my term. they were HD before the term existed). and vivid use of beautiful sexy colors. Beauty and sex are so closely related it is hard to separate the two. Sex is the desire to become one with the beautiful beloved, to merge together forming a new, uniquely beautiful and sexy being, and on it goes. From my perspective, art can serve a magical purpose, allowing the viewer to access parts of his or her self in ways not possible in any other way. Besides, it is awkward and rude to stare at a beautiful woman, however a painting of a beautiful woman can be stared at with delight, with no ill consequences. Alas, in some respects, all realistic art is pornographic. This is why realistic art was banned in the middle ages. I used to think they just didn’t have the skills, but no, the simple unrealistic forms are deliberate. Notice Rossetti’s use of the pomegranite (at least, I think that is what she’s holding). An unconscious association is made with the vagina. In the world of the pre-Raphaelite and even more so, the Symbolists and Decadents, objects and settings are symbols of other things or ideas. The paintings are a way of pointing to experiences that cannot be shown or heard, the spiritual realm if you will. It appeals to both my spiritual and perverse imaginations. There are many artists which have been considered Pre-Raphaelite who actually painted much later, such as John William Waterhouse, Gustave Moreau, These painters often used ancient myths and medieval tales as source material. Carl Jung would have said they were giving form to the universal archetypes of the collective unconscious. Freud would have said these paintings were a way of giving expression to their overflowing libido. They could both be right. All I know is that I can stare at these paintings for hours, lost in a reverie. For me, the experience is akin to the transformation of the senses which takes place when you fall in love. Everything becomes transformed, there is a special quality to the light, and the colors are magnificent when you are in love. I think that experience lies at the heart of pre-Raphaelite paintings. Then add a little Lord Byron, Shelley, or Yeats, and it is a veritable orgy of Romanticism. Perfect for young lovers!

Millais "Autumn Leaves" 1856

 Check out Proserpine by Rossetti above, do you see the hair? Rossetti could depict such rich, lush, hair better than anyone! You feel as though you could reach out and stroke her thick lovely hair. And the look within those dark eyes cannot be fully expressed. It depicts someone in deep thought, tinged with melancholy, and yet it is relatively subtle compared to the melodramatic style of the Symbolists. That is a useful distinction between the pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist. The Symbolist creates pure icons, divorced from that super realistic style of the pre-Raphaelite. The pre-Raphaelite uses nature itself to create that spiritual tipping point into blissful or perhaps mournful reverie. We have all had those pre-Raphaelite moments if you will, within our daily lives. Moments which are indelibly pressed into our consciousness. John Everett Millais, on the left, depicts what is for me an incredibly poignant scene, but not maudlin such as you might find in a Norman Rockwell print of the same kind of scene. Once again the effect is subtle but powerful. The light in this painting evokes autumn perfectly, and the expressions on the girl’s faces evoke a slight melancholy, but also pleasure. There is a hint of sadness even in the landscape. This is how autumn feels. Millais is a bit more conventional, not resorting to the hyper realism of Rossetti. You might say Millais preferred using more of a soft focus in his work. But I still can’t get over the exquisite use of color! One good thing about the internet age is the fact that you have entire art galleries at your fingertips. Of course it isn’t the same as having the paintings right in front of you, but at least you can access vast archives of paintings. I would encourage you to google these artists and see what you can find. Your computer monitor can serve as an imaginary light table bringing those paintings to life!

William Holman Hunt: Isabella and the pot of basil 1868

 Finally, for this post, I include one of the many wonderful paintings by William Holman Hunt. Look at the richness of detail and the sensual colors. It convinces me that ancient light was filled with delight. The face is a real face. This could easily be a HD digital photograph, the attention to strict realism is that good. Hunt’s women are voluptuous and invite lust as well as intellectual appreciation, Pre-Raphaelites delighted in the senses. They wanted us to see what they saw, touch what they touched, and feel what they felt. You feel as though you could reach out and hold that tablecloth in your hands! The pre-Raphaelites were not appreciated in their own time. They became very popular in the nineteen sixties drug culture because this kind of vivid realism and rich sensuality matches well the kind of languid eroticism produced by the ingestion of the best cannabis. I think the hippie subculture could also relate to the spirituality of these paintings. Spiritual eroticism! I suppose that could describe many of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. I will try to post more about the later Symbolist and Decadent schools of painting that owe a substantial debt to the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Golden Gate Bridge (Addendum)

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The SF Chronicle had a nice article this week about all of the sketches that were made of how the entryway to the Golden Gate Bridge should be designed. This provides a kind of Addendum to the previous post on the Bridge. The tendency at that time, the early thirties, was toward glorious flights of imagination. Architects would dream of enormous monumental architecture, and these plans reflect this tendency. When I looked at the illustration at the right, I not only thought of the overwrought architecture of the Romans, which was designed to overwhelm the viewer, and remind them of the might of the Empire, but also the architecture of Albert Speer, who was designing buildings for the Third Reich in this same period. He also had grandiose plans for Berlin, but that is for another post. It was an eye-opener for me however, to discover that Speer was not as unique in his ideas as some would have you believe. In America as well, as shown here, architects sought to overwhelm the viewer with massive structures. John King wrote the piece for the Chronicle, and I was struck by one sentence, “the images are fun cultural artifacts that in real life would have been deadly”. Until now, I had been unaware that architecture could kill. I suppose he is speaking metaphorically, such as I was when I said I was struck by a sentence. I wasn’t actually assaulted by a sentence. I still thought that was a wee bit dramatic, although I like it. Warning! Deadly Architecture Ahead. I will have to create yet another post with that title, and find examples other than just this article and Speer’s famous examples of deadly architecture.

The world had such a vivid imagination at the onset of the nineteen thirties. If you check out the sci-fi magazines of the time, you see all manner of elevated roadways, skies full of all sorts of dirigibles, and robots. Lots of robots! People of course filled the skies with their nifty jetpacks. I can recall immersing myself in that Buck Rogers world as a child, and how thrilling it was to my imagination. We could use more imagination in architecture. I don’t mean the abstract monstrosities of steel and glass which don’t resonate with our inner archetypes. That is what works about the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonates with our unconscious in it’s boldness, it’s audacity. But I would agree with King that this has it’s limits. I agree that huge concrete structures at the entrance to the bridge would have distracted from the already awe-inspiring natural setting. There was an architectural school at the time known as ‘City Beautiful’. I want to learn more about that school. I suspect it is filled with all sorts of dangerous architecture. You really should check out the exhibition of these Golden Gate bridge drawings at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission St on view until Oct. 14.

You should also check Sf Gate to see if they also have an online version of this fun article. As indicated in the article, many of the ideas involved what can only be called monumental architecture. Subtlety was not the idea. This was forbidding architecture, brooding upon the landscape, filling the viewer with a somber sense of his puny role in the grand scope of history. Of course, as King mentions, such monstrous creations are often mistaken for mausoleums. The message is clear when you gaze at a massive chuck of concrete. I am here to stay, I am permanent, and I am incredibly important, before my massiveness you must kneel. Fascist architecture, basically. The German pavilion at a Parisian fair in the mid-thirties, which stood on one side of the Seine, next to the Eiffel tower, with the Soviet pavilion on the other side, was also compared to a mausoleum by writer’s at the time. I’ll have to dig out a picture of that brickbat of a building. Take that, Paris, with your puny effete architecture. So it looks like I have plenty to write about in the future. Remember to shield your eyes from dangerous architecture. Art can Kill!