Tone Poem Tuesday

NPR has a podcast called the Open Ears Project:

Part mix tape, part sonic love-letter, the Open Ears Project is a daily podcast where people share the classical track that means the most to them. Each episode offers a soulful glimpse into other human lives, helping us to hear this music—and each other—differently.

I’ve been listening for a while, though I’m behind on episodes right now, and the most recent one I’ve heard is the episode with Tom Hiddleston in which he shares a work called Spiegel im Spiegel, by Estonian composer Arvo Part. Part is apparently the most frequently performed composer alive today, after John Williams, which is really saying something. I’ve heard very little of Part’s music, but what I have heard I always find hypnotic in its minimalism, and that’s certainly the case with Spiegel im Spiegel, which breaks from my usual habit of featuring orchestral music here. This is a chamber work featuring solo violin and piano, and it’s simply wonderful.

Spiegel im spiegel translates to “Mirror in the mirror”, and according to the notes on Wikipedia this refers to an “infinity mirror”, where two mirrors face each other and produce infinite reflections into the eternal distance. This makes me remember something as a kid, in all the department stores: the clothes sections had mirrors so you could see how something looked as you tried it on. The nicer stores had a three-mirror set-up so you could see how something looked from several angles. And if you were really lucky, the two angled mirrors on the sides were hinged so you could bring them in around you. I’d go up to one of those and enclose myself in a triangle of mirrors, and this was pretty trippy fun for a seven or eight-year-old kid. (My mother, for some reason, did not approve when I would do this. To this day I don’t see the problem.)

Spiegel im Spiegel is delicate and contemplative, and the sound is open and clear…almost infinite, like a perfectly mirrored pane of glass. Listening to it I can certainly hear an aural version of the imperfect infinity of endless reflections that bend slightly to one side, since you can never get the perfect vantage point to see all the way into infinity because your head is in the way. What a wonderful piece.

(And I heartily recommend The Open Ears Project. I won’t even accuse them of stealing my Tone Poem Tuesday idea for a podcast!)

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“Dick, sometimes I understand why they hate you.” Nixon, 30 years gone

A few days after Richard Nixon died (on this date, 1994), I was out riding around with my father as he did some errands. We stopped at the post office in the town where we lived, and Dad noticed that the flag was at half-staff. He asked why, and I said something like, “Well, a former President died–“

At that my father sputtered and said, “The flag’s down for NixonThat piece of shit?!”

Dad hated Richard Nixon. Hated him. Mom did too. Dad hated Nixon so much that he was angry at Gerald Ford for the rest of his politically-aware life (“Nixon should have gone to jail,” he would often say), and in his office at St. Bonaventure he had on the wall a poster (or maybe it was something he trimmed from a magazine or newspaper) that was a fairly unflattering picture of Nixon, captioned with “Everything he is today, he owes to a free press.”

When I went to college in Iowa, I met people who thought Nixon was just A-OK in their book. He did the same kind of shady shit they all do, you see! Nixon just got caught! That was my first real encounter with the deep cynicism of the American right.

Nixon was President when I was born, and he was gone from the scene before I even turned three, so I was never aware of Nixon as a political figure in any real capacity. I remember seeing him in interviews and wondering how that guy, with his gravely voice and complete lack of any real charisma, not only got elected but then reelected in one of the biggest victories ever. But Nixon was never a reality for me. Nixon was an abstract thing, to be honest.

Nixon was the first President of my lifetime, and he was also the third to die in my lifetime; Truman and Johnson were the first two. His passing in 1994 was a surprisingly big story, as I recall.

My main feeling on Nixon is shaped by, of all things, a film: Nixon, by Oliver Stone. I was excited when the film came out, as I already counted JFK among my favorites (I still admire it greatly, as paranoid and insane as its history actually is). I had to see Nixon by myself, as The Girlfriend (now The Wife) was not interested in another three-hour Oliver Stone political potboiler, and my mother scoffed at the concept, too: “I lived through that bastard once, I don’t need to sit through a goddamned movie about him.”

Nixon remains for me something of a classic. Here is a post I wrote back in 2010 after I rewatched it. I wouldn’t change a word of this.

Oliver Stone’s Nixon is an amazing film. I kind of wish Stone was still making movies like this: densely packed films that overwhelm the audiences with information and tell their tales in complex, non-linear ways. Well, maybe Stone still is making movies like this; in truth, I haven’t kept up with his career much over the last ten years.

It’s easy to see Nixon as a companion piece to the earlier JFK, and in many ways, it almost is. But it’s also a very different film, even while using many of the same techniques of the earlier film. Nixon is more meditative, more of a character study, than a film interested in posing a particular hypothesis, as was JFK. (To a certain extent, anyhow – people often refer to “Oliver Stone’s conpiracy theory” regarding the JFK assassination, but when you actually watch the film, no real, concrete hypothesis is ever actually advanced.)

Nixon seems generally focused on the way that the very strengths, or gifts, or skills that allowed Richard Nixon to ascend to the highest political office in the United States were the ones that brought about his downfall. A “tragic hero” will often have a bunch of good qualities, and one not-so-good quality that causes everything to fall apart. Nixon, however? His power came via his paranoia, and deserted him by the same route.

The film opens with a brief educational film about salesmanship (“What you’ve got to remember, Bob, is that you’re selling yourself!”), and then we’re into the story proper. The overall device of the film is Nixon, alone in his study during a series of nights toward the end of his Presidency, reflecting on the events of his past, most often by listening to his infamous tapes of his Oval Office conversations. The film is told in a series of flashbacks, then, and not always in the real order of events, but in the more real way in which we tend to remember things: the memories that surface as they seem relevant to the events of our present-day lives. At times, Nixon is remembering past political events, and at others, he is remembering past personal moments with Pat, the love of his life.

To me, the question of authenticity with regard to a film like this misses the point. I remember watching discussions of the film on news shows when it came out, back in 1995, and the topic always seemed to revolve around the extent to which Stone captured the “real Nixon”. Some folks attacked the film on that basis, others praised it; I remember one commentator – I think it may have been Bryant Gumbel – who said, “I don’t think it’s the Nixon, but rather a Nixon”. That seems pretty astute to me. Those closest to Richard Nixon seemed fairly adamant that Stone did not depict the “real Nixon”, but even those closest to us don’t know our real selves as well as they might think. Is Stone’s Nixon a “real” Nixon? I suspect that he captures some of Nixon’s qualities well, others not so well. I also suspect that Stone emphasizes some of Nixon’s qualities a bit in the interest of making a better movie. I think that Nixon is to Richard Nixon as Henry V is to King Henry the Fifth.

Of special interest to me when I watched Nixon a couple of weeks ago was the way no one ever really spells anything out directly. Nixon himself seems to be talking in code with his assistants much of the time, and at no point does anyone say, “Hey, we should break into the DNC offices at the Watergate and see what we can find out.” At no point does Nixon say, “We need to cover this up!” Everything is happening, or has already happened. This plays into one of Stone’s themes of the film, which is stated outright in the scene of the odd moment (which really happened) when Nixon left the White House in the middle of the night, went to the Lincoln Memorial, and ended up interacting with the protesting kids there. Referring to the war, one girl says: “You can’t stop it, can you? You’re powerless.”

Stone conveys this as well with a lot of fascinating cinematography. As in JFK< he employs a lot of different looks and styles throughout the film, sometimes shooting things “straight”, while other times using black-and-white, or making the film very grainy in spots, or using lots of fades and superimpositions of stock footage to convey the magnitude of the issues Richard Nixon faced or the hugeness of his character. In many “Presidential” films or teevee shows, such as The American President or The West Wing, the White House is shot as a beautiful place where our patriotism and commitment to democracy is literally made physical. No so in Nixon; the White House here is an ominous place, and place of fear and dread in the face of historical forces that cannot be tamed.

Stone often frames scenes from odd angles, and many scenes depict dark shadows contrasting with brilliant light streaming in through windows. An early scene shows Nixon in his personal study, sitting beside a roaring fireplace while the air conditioning is on at full blast.

Nixon seems increasingly shocked, over the course of the film, to learn just how little control even a President gets to have over the forces around him, and by the time he really comes to grips with this, he is on the brink of ending his Presidency. Even late in that particular game, though, he continues to assert that a lack of control was what got them, in the end: “We never got our story out,” he says to Alexander Haig. Nixon relishes the moments, all too few, when he gets to feel as though he is in control, such as when he puts a wealthy donor in his place or chews out Henry Kissinger. But he also reacts with increasing anger when his efforts at control fail, such as when a press conference goes awry or when his own wife tries to criticize him over dinner.

That brings me to the film’s central relationship, that of the marriage of Richard and Pat Nixon. It’s really an amazing relationship, as movie marriages go; it is not depicted as a relationship of blind love that is independent of everything else in Richard Nixon’s life, nor is it depicted as Pat’s Lady Macbeth to Richard’s Macbeth, with Pat being ambitious and desiring of power all her own and only being in the marriage because it’s the best route for a woman to real power in mid-20th century America. Pat Nixon is shown as being literally the only person in Richard’s life who is ever willing to criticize him or tell him when he’s wrong, but she is also there for him through everything, except for one brief period when she considers divorce. Even then, however, Richard brings her back from the brink, and even after all of her disgust during the long unfolding of Watergate, when Richard at last stands alone in the White House on that last night of his Presidency, ruined and emotionally drained and devastated, it’s Pat who comes to him and gives him the only consistent shoulder he’s ever known on which to lean.

Nothing in this movie would work without some great performances by the cast, and there isn’t a single weak link among them. Stone assembles an astonishing supporting cast here; so much so that if this movie had been made in the 1970s, the posters would have included one of those rows of thumbnail photos of the stars along the bottom. James Woods, Bob Hoskins, M. Emmet Walsh, Saul Rubinek, EG Marshall, Madeleine Kahn, Tony Goldwyn, Mary Steenburgen, David Hyde Pierce, Ed Harris, and the like – Nixon might be the single most star-studded film of the 1990s to not feature Kevin Bacon in any role at all. But the two performances that center the film, that absolutely ground it, are Joan Allen as Pat Nixon, and Anthony Hopkins as Richard.

The film made a pretty wise choice as regards the “look” of Richard Nixon. They didn’t go overboard in trying to make Hopkins look like the genuine article; they gave him roughly the same haircut and I assume some prosthetic teeth to make his smile look more Nixonian, but after that, they relied on Hopkins to do it all through the magic of acting. He plays Nixon as a somewhat hunched-over, physically awkward, gravelly-voiced man who never seems to exude much by way of charisma, but rather gets what he wants from others because he simply won’t accept anything else. Nixon is a bundle of nervous energy, and Hopkins plays him as a man who sweats too much, grins at odd moments, and can’t figure out what to do with his own hands.

Hopkins’s performance is endlessly fascinating to me, coming as it does in the same period as a number of other performances by him that are all unique: there is nothing of Hannibal Lecter to be found in Hopkins’s Richard Nixon; nor is there to found any of Mr. Ludlow from Legends of the Fall, CS Lewis from Shadowlands, or anyone else. Hopkins’s Nixon is really a singular creation, so much so that the spell is actually broken twice over the course of the film, both involving Oliver Stone’s use of archival footage from the Nixon years. One is of a Nixon mask, being paraded about at a protest rally; the features are distorted, but we can still see that it’s a mask of the real Nixon; the other is at the very end of the movie, when Stone shows us footage of the real Mr. And Mrs. Nixon walking to Marine One for their final departure from the White House.

Joan Allen’s Pat Nixon is equally remarkable, because hers is a quieter performance as the only person who gets to talk back to Dick Nixon and not only get away with it but be able to stick around afterwards. She is, by turns, thrilled by him, devoted to him, angered by him, disgusted with him, and in the end, deeply empathetic to him. We can see the pain on her face when she sees him, alone in the White House, talking to the portrait of John F. Kennedy, in one of the film’s finest moments (“When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are.”) The keenest moment of insight as to Nixon’s character – as the film depicts it – comes when Dick is gearing up for his 1968 run for President, six years after he’s sworn to Pat that he’s done running for office. She is angry that he has been making plans without telling her, but she still feels the old hunger and the pain from the last two losing campaigns has mostly faded, so she is willing to stand with him once again – in fact, she even hungers for it herself, telling him “This time, we’re gonna win. I can feel it.” And Dick takes her in his arms and dances, in the best Nixonian fashion: awkwardly and gracelessly.

John Williams’s score for Nixon is, to my mind, one of his more underrated efforts. He juxtaposes a cheerfully optimistic Americana sound with more downbeat and dark music as Nixon begins to spiral out of control. Stone closes the film with a musical choice that seems odd, at first, but is really amazingly fitting: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s a capella rendition of Shenandoah. There isn’t much in the film by way of period popular music, as instead Stone relies on Williams’s sound world to help immerse us in the world of Dick Nixon.

As with JFK, a companion book was released for Nixon, containing the film’s screenplay, a number of archival documents (including transcriptions of the Nixon tapes), and essays by the filmmakers, historians, and figures from the Nixon administration (John Dean and E. Howard Hunt). Here is an excerpt from an essay by Christopher Wilkinson, one of the film’s writers:

The more we got to know Nixon, the more it struck us how odd he was. He was a man who referred to himself in the third person and called his wife “Buddy”. He was physically awkward, socially graceless, and sexually repressed. Other than Bebe Rebozo, he had no real friends. When he needed to relax, he would just sit silently with Rebozo. For hours. Bob Haldeman was with him for nearly twenty years and never shook his hand.

The was a strange man, an extremely strange and mysterious man.

I cannot remember the precise moment when we started to empathize with Nixon. To begin to understand the tragedy of his life. To appreciate the true dimensions of his character.

Nixon came from nothing – the wrong schools, the wrong clothes, the wrong parents – and, by dint of hard work and self-sacrifice, rose to the heights. In many ways he is the American Dream incarnate, the self-made man who tortured himself to be a Somebody. And he never gave up. He came off the canvas again and again, rehabilitating himself, reinventing himself. Admittedly, the notion of Nixon the Indestructible is often trotted out to evoke sympathy for him.

But it’s true.

There are other poignant and peculiar details that reached us, that slowly eroded our contempt. The emotionally distant mother who rarely touched him. The brutish father who directed fits of blind rage at him. The lonely, clumsy boy who was sure that no matter what he did, he would never be good enough.

And the dead brothers. First his beloved little Arthur. Then Harold, outgoing, attractive, a boy Richard idolized. A boy whose lingering death allowed the family to afford Richard’s tuition to law school.

The guilt.

When Nixon fell in love with Pat, he drove her on dates with other boys to prove himself to her. He wore her down with a barrage of flowers and letters. He would do whatever it took to win her and he never let up until she was his.

Classic Nixon.

The only clean campaign he ever ran was 1960. Kennedy (like Harold) was everything Nixon was not – handsome, charming, articulate, witty. Nixon could have used any number of smear tactics against him; the religion, the Mob connections, the women. But he didn’t. He respected Jack Kennedy more than any opponent he had ever faced. So, for the only time in his political life, Nixon played it straight.

And Kennedy stole the election from him.

The fact that he didn’t completely come apart during the crushing pressure of the final days of Watergate is a testament to his bullheaded resolve. To his perverse brand of courage. Everyone was against him. The country wanted his head on a pike and he wouldn’t give it to them. A lesser man might have run screaming and drooling down Pennsylvania Avenue. Or had a stroke. Or committed suicide. But not Nixon. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

As President, he did more to desegregate the schools than any of his predecessors. He created the first and most effective Environmental Protection Agency. He has few (if any) Presidential peers in foreign policy: the spectacular opening of China, achieving detente with the Russians. Accomplishments that Nixon, the quintessential Commie hunter, was uniquely suited for. If a liberal Democratic President had tried it, he would have been crucified.

And Nixon would have brought the nails.

Nixon stretched our idea of what greatness is. He is a huge character who embraces the entire American landscape from its loftiest ambitions to its most malignant schemes. To understand Nixon is to understand what we have been. To understand Nixon’s destiny is to understand what has happened to us. To understand Nixon’s life is to understand the history of our times.

What strikes me now, on reflection, is the way the Nixon political playbook has come to dominate American politics in our day, forty years after Nixon held office, with its dirty tricks and coded appeals to our baser instincts. But Nixon’s actual policy goals now form the farthest boundary to the left that our politics are willing to allow voice. It’s amazing to me that if a Republican candidate came along now, espousing Richard Nixon’s policy goals, that candidate wouldn’t even make it out of the primaries. Things that a Republican President did forty years ago would be labeled as unforgivably liberal — Socialist, even — if a Democrat did them today.

What a great, disturbing film this is. Just like Richard Nixon himself.

Posted in On History, On Movies, On People | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sunday Stealing

It’s early and I’m on my first cup of coffee, so I figured I’d do one of these occasional quizzes from Sunday Stealing. (The quizzes are weekly, it’s my participation that’s occasional. Roger participates every week!)

Here we go!

1.    What was the best toy you ever owned?

Goodness. You know, I oddly can’t recall a favorite or “best” toy. I did have some great stuff as a kid, though. There was something called, I don’t know, Treehouse Family or some such thing; it was a big plastic tree where the leaf canopy (basically a big inverted green bowl) lifted up to reveal the “house” inside, and you could then play with the little people in their treehouse lives. Or the battery-operated mine car thing that ran on a track and picked up “coal” (little black plastic balls) and dumped them off elsewhere on the track.

You’d think I had a ton of Star Wars toys as a kid, but I didn’t, really…just a few here and there, though I did have more space toys with which I supplemented my Star Wars play. Yes, in my 6-year-old 1978 head canon, there was a ship in Star Wars that looked a lot like the space shuttle.

2.    When in your life have you felt the loneliest?

Wow, that took a turn for the serious. I’ll answer 2007, and I’m not going into why.

3.    What is your strongest emotion?

OK, after the toy question, this quiz has gone uber-serious on me. I find that sadness is always lurking in the corners, and I’m hoping that’s not just a creeping-age thing that gets worse. We’ll see, said the Zen master….

4.    When were you the most disappointed in yourself?

2007. Not going into why.

(Interestingly, Roger took the exact same approach to this question.)

5.    Which law would you most like to change?

Lifetime tenure for Supreme Court judges. Oh, and to hell with the Second Amendment.

6.    Who is the person you have hated the most in your lifetime?

I really don’t like admitting to hate. That said, I find myself pining for the day that our 45th president can only be spoken of in past tense, and I make no apology for that. The man has done nothing at all in his years on Earth but pervert everything he touches.

7.    What has disappointed you the most?

The formation of a gigantic cult around our 45th President.

8.    What’s the best possible attitude toward death?

It’s gonna happen, why worry about it? (I try to maintain this attitude. I am not always successful.)

9.    What’s been the longest day in your life?

November 28, 2005.

10.  What is the biggest coincidence in your life?

Honestly, I’ve no idea.

11.  What’s the oldest you’d like to live?

If I can reach a relatively active and dementia-free mid-80s, I think that’s good.

12.    Who is the most amazing woman you know personally?

That one. [points at The Wife]

13.    What was your best experience in school?

I joined Band in 5th grade, mainly for kicks because the band teacher (Mr. Beach) asked me to. I didn’t take it seriously at all, and it showed in my effort and results…until sometime in 7th grade, and I don’t even recall when this happened, when I decided to start taking it seriously and work at it.

14.    What’s the most meaningful compliment you’ve ever received?

A boss of mine once had to sit me down for a real “Come to Jesus” moment, because I had genuinely been kind of rudderless at best and spiraling downward at worst. (To my credit I had already recognized this and was already striving to turn that shit around, but it hadn’t really manifested yet outwardly, and a single individually-mild screw-up on my part was sufficient for the “WTF is wrong with you?!” discussion behind a closed door.) Less than a year later he sat me down again to tell me that I had really turned that shit around and to keep it up. This happened more recently than I like to admit.

Also, a few times in my life I’ve had people who I know to be better writers than me tell me that I’m a good writer. That always feels good.

15.    What is the most you’ve spent on something really stupid?

Well, I’m really glad that it didn’t turn out to be the camera that I dropped a chunk of money on last year! It might be a pair of overalls that I paid honestly more than I should have to discover that they didn’t quite fit, despite the sizing tag. There were also a couple of computers I’ve bought, one a desktop and one laptop, that I bought out of necessity when a previous machine died, neither of which I was really happy with. I suppose it’s good that while I do spend more money on stuff than I should, I don’t tend to blow it on shit.

OK, that was way more introspective than I expected!

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Because, scritches.

Carla wanted scritches.
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At the Gardens

Last week my Brother-in-Law visited us, and one of the things we did was go to the Botanical Gardens, which is always a terrific time, as well as a great place to practice photography! I organized my edited shots from that day into this Flickr album, but here are my favorites from that day:


From the front steps of the Gardens, you can see the looming edifice of Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
A mobile of Japanese umbrellas in the main rotunda. This took a bit of editing, but I like how it came out!
In the time we’ve been going to the Gardens, I’ve probably taken at least two dozen attempted mirror selfies in this wonderfully ornate mirror. Somehow they usually don’t turn out, mainly because I always try to do these quickly before someone comes along. This time I said the hell with it. I’ve really developed something of an ability to say “I have this camera and I’m getting my shot!” of late….
This Buddha statue, in the wonderful Tropical Plants room, is not only my favorite subject at the Gardens, but it’s one of my favorite photographic subjects anywhere in the area. I always take multiple shots of this statue when we’re there. This one turned out pretty well! The key here was the leaf in the foreground, partially shrouding the Buddha and giving the photo some depth. The fact that I’m getting shots like this is a sign, I hope, that I’m leveling up as a photographer!

I have a lot more photos from last weekend that I haven’t even edited yet! If you’re looking for a hobby that will eat some time, photography’s the one, folks.

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Something for Thursday

We recently watched The Holiday, a rom-com written and directed by Nancy Meyers, and we liked it a great deal, despite our inability to quite buy into the idea that both Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz are lovelorn women with zero luck in love. I enjoyed the movie for many reasons, one of which is the score by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer is not always the first thought people might have when thinking about scores for rom-coms, but he has some chops in this regard! One of my favorite Zimmer scores is, after all, his wonderful work for As Good As It Gets, and now I’m enjoying this one. Here’s a selection.

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New video: My photographic journey, thus far

New video on my YouTube channel! Watch! Like! Subscribe!

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Tone Poem Tuesday

Composer Eric Whitacre, whom I have featured several times in this space before, is an always fascinating voice to return to. I had, in fact, forgotten about him until the week before the eclipse, when I looked up classical music selections inspired by space (that were not Holst’s The Planets, which is a work with which I’ve had a strained relationship over the years). Whitacre’s name came up for a piece called Deep Field, which sounded interesting. It turns out that the background of Deep Field is even more interesting.

If you’re up on your Hubble Space Telescope lore, you’ll recognize the title Deep Field as referring to one specific image: the “Hubble eXtreme Deep Field”, and here it is:

Bigger versions are available here. By way of background:

This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade of a small patch of sky in the constellation of Fornax. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made, combining data from previous images including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (taken in 2002 and 2003) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field Infrared (2009).

The image covers an area less than a tenth of the width of the full Moon, making it just a 30 millionth of the whole sky. Yet even in this tiny fraction of the sky, the long exposure reveals about 5500 galaxies, some of them so distant that we see them when the Universe was less than 5% of its current age.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field image contains several of the most distant objects ever identified.

It’s one of the most awe-inspiring images of our Cosmos ever captured, particularly when you realize that (a) this comprises just the tinies part of what we can see from here, and (b) the Cosmos looks like that in every direction. The vastness of space-time captured here and implied by the strange smallness of this specific infinity is utterly humbling.

The XDF image inspired the making of a film celebrating the years of Hubble’s service to astronomy, and Mr. Whitacre was brought in to score the film. The result is an amazing ethereal work that builds and builds and builds with intensity, before subsiding with the entrance of a choir. The work is open and yet dense, peaceful and yet driving…it’s music that stands alongside our images of the depths of our universe.

Grammy® award-winning American composer Eric Whitacre’s symphonic work Deep Field was inspired by the world’s most famous space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope which celebrated its 30th year in orbit in 2020, and its greatest discovery – the iconic Deep Field image. The film – Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of our Universe – illuminates the score by combining Hubble’s stunning imagery, including never-seen-before galaxy fly-bys, with bespoke animations to create an immersive, unforgettable journey from planet Earth to the furthest edges of our universe.

The film is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Grammy® award-winning composer & conductor Eric Whitacre, producers Music Productions, scientists and visualizers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and multi award-winning artists 59 Productions. The score and film paint the incredible story of the Hubble Deep Field. Turning its gaze to a tiny and seemingly dark area of space (around one 24-millionth of the sky) for an 11-day long period, the Hubble Space Telescope revealed over 3,000 galaxies that had never previously been seen, each one composed of hundreds of billions of stars.

Here is Deep Field, first performed in concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and then the film with the work alongside it. This is amazing stuff.


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Edgar Guest on Taxation: a poem

Today is April 15, Tax Day! And it’s still April, National Poetry Month, so after a few minutes of Googling “poems about taxes”, here’s one that’s actually not entirely pessimistic about whole affair. I could go on for a bit about Americans and their attitude on taxes, but I won’t, except to note that somehow American conservatives have managed to convince a great many Americans over the last few decades that the thing holding them back is what government takes out of their paychecks, which is a handy way of also getting Americans to now wonder what their employers aren’t putting in those paychecks in the first place.

Anyway, here is “Taxes” by Edgar Guest, a poet once called “the People’s Poet”, and whose work isn’t highly regarded these days, if indeed it ever was; Dorothy Parker once quipped, “Id rather flunk my Wasserman Test than read a poem by Edgar Guest.” Ouch. (Yes, I had to look up what a Wasserman Test is.)

When they become due I don’t like them at all.
Taxes look large be they ever so small
Taxes are debts which I venture to say,
No man or no woman is happy to pay.
I grumble about them, as most of us do.
For it seems that with taxes I never am through.

But when I reflect on the city I love,
With its sewers below and its pavements above,
And its schools and its parks where children may play
I can see what I get for the money I pay.
And I say to myself: “Little joy would we know
If we kept all our money and spent it alone.”

I couldn’t build streets and I couldn’t fight fire
Policemen to guard us I never could hire.
A water department I couldn’t maintain.
Instead of a city we’d still have a plain
Then I look at the bill for the taxes they charge,
And I say to myself: “Well, that isn’t so large.”

I walk through a hospital thronged with the ill 
And I find that it shrivels the size of my bill. 
As in beauty and splendor my home city grows, 
It is easy to see where my tax money goes
And I say to myself: “if we lived hit and miss
And gave up our taxes, we couldn’t do this.”

(Text via)

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“I’ll take ‘KINDS OF RAMAS’ for $1000, Ken”

The answer: “This type of widescreen photograph can be created in Lightroom by stitching together multiple photographs from a single vantage point.”

“What is a panorama?”

Last Sunday I was at Chestnut Ridge park on a wonderfully clear day, and thus I was able to take a series of shots of the entire Buffalo-Niagara region, with visibility all the way to Niagara Falls, ON and beyond, and I was further able to experiment with creating a panorama in Lightroom. And here it is:

I know, that’s…tiny, as presented here. For the full-size enlargeable version, go here. I’m very happy with how this turned out! For one thing, I never realized that the OLV Basilica in Lackawanna can be seen clearly from up there.

Posted in On Buffalo and The 716, On Exploring Photography, Photographic Documentation | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on “I’ll take ‘KINDS OF RAMAS’ for $1000, Ken”