Donald's Blog

  This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.

«Mar 2012»

In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever, and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc. to:


March 12, 2012

On poetry

Marianne Moore: "an imaginary garden with real toads in it."

W.H. Auden on T.S. Eliot: "One is aware all the time of the poetry, so to speak, saying that the truth is a silence to which our words can only point but cannot utter."


March 12, 2012

How we live now

William Hamilton has died, aged 87. He was a professor of church history in a divinity school, and had been writing papers and engaging in scholarly theological discussions for years about the role of religion in an increasingly secular society. The Swiss Karl Barth represented the conservative orthodoxy in the last century; the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered by the Nazis just a few weeks before Hitler shot himself in 1945, had already been speculating about a Christianity without God.
      Then Time magazine ran a cover story in 1966 with a black background and huge red letters: "Is God Dead?" But all the types who regard religion as a sort of Disneyland for the soul, and can hardly wait to go to a Heaven like a Big Rock Candy Mountain, were outraged; Hamilton had to change jobs, and his 12-year-old son was picked on at school. How I remember that cover, and the exciting intellectual debate out in the mainstream! But the American mainstream couldn't take it.

Auden's quote about poetry above was taped by the BBC a few days after T.S. Eliot died. A five-minute tribute to Eliot was put together to preceed a segment of Monitor, then the BBC's flagship arts program. That Monitor (12 January 1965) was about the Newcastle composer Wilfred Joseph and his Requiem based on the Hebrew Kaddish; the Times Literary Supplement wrote about it:

Beautifully shot in and around the subject's home town and quite brilliantly edited, it is a fine example of mid-century public service broadcasting, based on now long-abandoned Reithian principles of seriousness and high moral purpose. 

John Reith (1889-1971) was the 1st Baron Reith, a Scottish broadcasting executive who set the tone for the BBC for many years, and the BBC may not be what it used to be, but British television is still better than ours. Isn't everybody crazy about Downton Abbey? I know, I know: it's just a jumped-up soap opera, and it isn't the BBC; it's from ITV (Independent Television, the British commercial network). But it's about history, and it's accurate, and the production values are very high, and the reason ITV is so good is that it has to compete with the BBC.
      It isn't true that American TV is mostly rubbish because they're just giving us what we want. Lord Reith and Steve Jobs gave us stuff that we didn't know we wanted until we saw it, and they saw to it that it was beautifully designed. The producers of American culture could raise the tone. But perhaps we like our own class system, of those who watch "reality" TV and those who don't.


March 12, 2012

Quality posters? Naaah.

We went to the Van Gogh show at the Philadelphia Art Museum ten days ago, and it was gorgeous, unbelieveable. I thought I knew something about Van Gogh, but I knew nothing about how prolific the man was, and how many different kinds of things he did just in the last three or four years of his life. It was an unforgettable show. But there was nothing to buy in the museum shop. All the postcards and posters were unimpressive after seeing the real thing.
      Okay, I know, a great painting cannot be reproduced photographically, in a magazine, a poster, a book, a postcard. Tell me about it. My favorite painting in the whole world is Cezanne's Lac d'Annecy, in the Courtauld Institute gallery in London. I don't even want to see a reproduction of it; the colors, better than nature, cannot be captured. But BoSacks wants to argue.
      Bob Sacks has probably the longest-running e-newsletter ("Heard on the Web" Media Intelligence, since 1993) about publishing, printing, paper, distribution and so on, especially magazines. He was evidently on vacation in Tasmania, and a visit to an art museum in Hobart set him off. His hilarious rant was about reproduction of works of art. 

I have been in printing all of my adult life. I have printed untold millions of pages from short run B to B's to very long multi-million runs with gravure. I hold the premise that each and every page ever printed under my watch would outshine any poster printed in any museum. I will take that even a step further. I believe most if not all of my production brethren would also win that kind of contest [...] How can anyone expect me to go through an exhibition of Monet and then come around the corner and see those hideously printed inferior posters?  Perhaps the posters are from Monet's younger brother Ralph.  That's right, Ralph Monet. What, you never heard of him?  Well, no wonder.  His posters stink.

 Turns out that maybe better reproduction is possible.

We are starting with perfect originals. Can it possibly get any better than museum quality originals?  Next we need a decent transparency of the original. Hmmmm.  This is where I have to assume the real problems begin, with the photographer.  Maybe there's only one person who goes from museum to museum recreating his or her horrendous talent for understatement.  Whoever this unsighted photographer is, this person has never heard of nor seen a gray scale.  This visual giant clearly does not know anything about highlights, mid-tones and three-quarter values.  All this creature knows is mud.  

Then of course there is the process, the sending of the photo to the printer. 

Oh yes, I hear some of the snickering going on out there from the production seniors on the list. Listen up! I know all about the compression of the visual spectrum in reproduction. That is just a lazy man's excuse for inferior workmanship. I'm talking about taking a reflective piece of art, converting it to a transparency, and printing a reflective representation of the original. I know it will never match the original [but] I am professionally embarrassed by what I see passed off as Posters of Great Art. And that is the bottom line.

Sometimes BoSacks makes me want to jump up and down.


March 12, 2012

Give us a break

Junior's column the other day in the Wall Street Journal (that's Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.) was called "Newt Is Right About Gas Prices". What, does Gingrich want to charge me for each beer fart? Oh, wait, it's gasoline, and it's one of Holman's rants. Quite a few economists and even some politicians think it would be a good idea if we burned less gasoline, and of course one way to ensure that we use less would be to raise the price. But Holman doesn't want the market to work that way. He wants it to be free (as in Thomas Frank's new book, Pity the Billionaire) so that very soon the roads and bridges would be in such poor shape that he wouldn't be able to drive anywhere anyway. But here's a juicy quote:

In a rare moment of sentience, the White House press this week confronted President Obama with the paradox. His response was telling: "Do you think the president of the United States going into re-election wants gas prices to go up higher? Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?"

The President, of course, is being accused by morons of making gasoline prices go up, while American oil production has been going up since Obama took office. Understanding what he said at a press conference would require a sense of humor, an understanding of irony, and some respect for Obama's candor. If he had the power to make gasoline prices go up or down, he wouldn't make them go up during election season, now would he. But knees will jerk on the Journal's op-ed page.

In the Morning Call for March 15, Mr. J.P. Lynn of Allentown and Jonah Goldberg, a columnist syndicated by Tribune Media Services, both quote Obama at his press conference, and neither gets the point. "Does Obama really care about gas prices?" is the headline over the wingnut Goldberg's column. I don't know, and neither does Goldberg, but let's blame Obama anyway.

(Full disclosure: I lived for 25 years in a country where gasoline costs twice as much as it does here, and I survived.)


March 12, 2012

Is this close enough for jazz?

The excellent Irish bassist and composer Ronan Guilfoyle has an interesting blog. This week he was on about the occasional interest in "jazz" supposedly sparked by something which sounds nothing like jazz at all. He has nothing against bassist and singer Esperanda Spalding, or pianist Robert Glasper (whose new album is called Black Radio), but let's not kid ouselves, folks.

The vast majority of the generation who are currently growing up on iPhones, Lady Ga Ga and X-Box are unlikely to have any interest in the kind of music that demands full attention from the listener and an ability to engage with sometimes challenging music for lengthy periods of time. It’s just not going to happen – at least not in the kind of numbers suggested by an appearance on Letterman.

Jazz needs to be true to itself. Read his piece and see some music clips here.