Category Archives: History

William Powell, who wrote the Anarchist’s Cookbook, died a few months ago

The history of resistance is populated by lone wolves, some who are admirable. Some who are truly transgressive.

William Powell was young and fired up and figured out how to terrorize the world. His obituary is well worth reading.

He also lived, after his transgression, something of an exemplary live, serving our society’s greater goals always.

I loved the Anarchist Cookbook when I was a teen, for the assumption of pure power anyone could have by building a bomb. It stroked my teenage dream of blowing things up to make things right.

But we all knew we were small potatoes compared to the international situation.  Or we thought we were.

Today we know that a small potato with a big bomb can change everything, and while Powell may have known that, his amazing book is changed by that knowledge from an object of romantic upheaval to a harbinger of terror.

It’s the same thing, but the context changes everything. And I write now of my love for the book without apology, but with a much greater understanding of the obligations and costs of, well, revolution, especially as practiced by someone better equipped to blow stuff up and kill than to actually change things.

Time to head to the basement to find my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.

Governor Cuomo, Sir! A Way Better Idea for Penn Station.

Yesterday the Governor of New  York, Andrew Cuomo, announced a new shopping mall and Amtrak station adjoining the James A. Farley Post Office Building, across Eighth Avenue from the current Madison Square Garden. Call it the new Penn Station.

If you’re not familiar with New York you have no idea just what a disaster the current Penn Station, which currently resides under the Garden, is. For one thing, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad all come through the station, which is a tangle of platforms and stairways and levels, all with low ceilings and a sense of crushing crowdedness.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-30-17For another, it isn’t the glorious station that was built in 1910 and graced the site for 50 years before it was ingloriously torn down by greedy developers, a move that sparked New York’s historic preservation movement cum bureaucracy those many years ago.

If you are familiar with the station, you know all its horrors, but you might not guess that 650,000 people arrive and leave from it every day. It was designed to handle about 200,000.

As someone whose portal into the city when I was growing up was Penn Station, it was always a miserable place to be. Its dismal surroundings were ameliorated somewhat by the fact that you were either leaving or coming, you didn’t linger longer than necessary in Penn Station. Still, sometimes the wait was long.

I don’t know if it is by coincidence or plan, but the New York Times today has an elaborate suggestion for how to fix Penn Station. The beauty of the plan, which was developed by the architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, is to leave the massive cylinder that is Madison Square Garden intact, but to do away with all the innards.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-32-00No concrete shell, no hockey rink, no basketball court. No stairs or escalators. The shell would be replaced with something called blast-proof glass, and the space would be open to the sidewalk. No doors!

Though in cold weather the station may be sealed off by temporary walls. But the idea is that the sun beating down on a giant glass building would work like a greenhouse.  Anyone who has ridden the escalator up with a full complement of luggage to the door on Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street knows how nice the elimination of door would be.

In any case, the Times presentation of this idea, written by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s architecture critic, is not only beautiful, but it is beautifully presented. If there’s a reason to move from print to digital now, this is it.

And I’m not showing any of it. Be surprised!

 

Patti Smith on Camus at CUNY

smithoncamusCUNYI went to see Patti Smith talk with Kevin Baker about Albert Camus last night at the CUNY Graduate Center, in what they call the Altman Building.

It was an amiable chat about the great French writer’s first and last books, both unfinished before he died (The Happy Death and The First Man). Smith read from each and talked some about her love of reading, especially French literature in translation.

The talk ended with Smith telling a story and singing a song.

Molly Lowe’s Redwoods

Pioneer Works is an art space in Red Hook Brooklyn.

Discovered/Founded/Developed by an artist named Dustin Yellin, Pioneer Works is a building, artist studios, a public space, a gallery and a garden.

What I know of Yellin’s work, he’s taken cut outs of mostly Victorian imagery and layered them between sheets of glass, so they become 3-d collages. I won’t mince words. These sculptures are beautiful and mind-blowing.  And impossible to photograph. You have to be there.

Redwood’s is the installation of three on-site pieces in the Pioneer Works gallery. The photo only hints at their grandeur. The real payoff is the movie, which is an hour long, has no dialogue, and is about a young woman, presumably Lowe, finding a way to tell her family’s history through the fragmented memories of her  demented grandmother.

The movie uses face and hand masks and lots of plastic design to render the story in a really real way and really unrealistic way. With emotion, but also with the understanding that emotions and memories get confused. That’s part of the story.

A Saturday afternoon well spent.
2016-03-12 16.26.41

Welcome to the New Mastervision!

LittleLeagueDVD-Cover-ArtFor nearly 30 years, since I wrote and directed the baseball instructional video Little League’s Official How-to-Play Baseball Video for Mastervision, I’ve worked off and on for the company.

Richard Stadin, who started the company in 1981, and I worked together distributing a slate of impressive educational and instructional (mostly) videos, first on VHS, and then on DVD. You can see the list at mastervision.com. (I also wrote and directed, with Jim Ebner and Paul Opler, the Audubon Butterfly Essentials for Beginners and Gardeners and the Audubon VideoGuide to Butterflies Common and Endangered, for Mastervision.)

Just a few weeks ago, after a long period of transition, Richard Stadin retired, signed the papers, and passed keys to the company to me.

2015-04-01 15.40.03
Richard Stadin signs agreement to transfer Mastervision, after 35 years. It was a hard moment for him.

My mission is to move as much of the collection to digital distribution, sell some DVDs and help promote the titles to new audiences via social media.

To that end I’m posting promotional clips on YouTube, on the Mastervision channel, and Facebook, on the Mastervision Page. All the titles are on sale there now, for a limited time, so please check them out if you’re interested.

People will soon be able to buy digital downloads of all the titles, and rent some of them, too. I’m excited about the possibilities.

Like Mastervision on Facebook!

The Horror

I’m a great fan of Ben Fountain’s novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which Matt Richtel writes about in this piece about recent vets of the US’s foreign wars and their discomfort with being thanked for their service.

Richtel’s story is a reminder that our government gave up on a conscripted army after the Viet Nam war because it was an inefficient and politically troublesome way to wage war, especially unpopular wars that go on for a long time. Something our military seems to be very good at.

And our volunteer veterans are the citizens who face the consequences of this perpetual war, including deployment and redeployment, life and death risk, debilitating injury, and the prospect of facing a lifetime being reminded that service ends up being a democratic dividing line rather than an adhesive.

Richtel makes this point more lucidly than I ever could by telling the story of a hand shake, and what came after.