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.

«Dec 2014»

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:


November 2, 2014

Here we are in a new world

Some news at last! I have been handicapped because my Nook is a lousy tablet. (Yesterday I could not reach this page using Ethne's laptop; today I can. Don't ask.) All our stuff is locked up in a storage unit, including my computer; but our short sale is going through, and this week we shall be inspecting and appraising, and soon closing, and then the rest of the chore will begin: we will still be living out of suitcases while ratty carpeting is disposed of, floors are refinished, maybe some walls moved, as well as heaven and earth. There will be more inconvenience. I have told Ethne that if she ever tells me I have to move again I am climbing to the top of Pike's Peak and jumping off.

But we are in Colorado Springs, and I have not been so happy to be anywhere since we moved from London to the village of Yaxham in Norfolk nearly 30 years ago. There's no humidity here - this morning I went out with the dogs at 5 am in my nightshirt and I thought it was nice and fresh; it turned out to be well below freezing. The sunshine is real rather than filtered through tons of allergens and pollutants. The traffic here is insane, as in the Lehigh Valley; unlike Pennsylvania however, Colorado has adequate roads. (A small downside: here are more drivers here with tattoos and loud exhaust systems, such as we wanted when we were teenagers before we grew up.) There are mom'n'pop restaurants as well as chain stores (the pizza at Villa Roma on North Nevada is as good as the best I've ever had, and cold the next morning it's still that good). There are brewpubs on every street corner. The Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Springs (directed by Thomas WIlson) is the equal of the Pennsylvania Sinfonia, which we enjoyed in the East (they did a very creditable Beethoven Eroica a week ago), and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (under Josep Caballé Domenich)... well, comparisons are odious, but the omens are good: their Smetana Bartered Bride Overture was a jolly romp, their Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra shimmered, and their Brahms 2nd piano concerto (with Orli Shaham) made a good case for the piece, which I don't much care for.

We had left Allentown without looking back on October 7, spent the first night with nearby friends for riotous table talk (all of us saying goodbye to a certain publishing company). We had excellent chicken-fried steak with white gravy (in Tennessee I think), as good as any we ever had in Texas), a lovely time seeing friends in Memphis (and bbq as good as any we ever had), two nights in a Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper in a fly-blown town in Oklahoma (a comically uncomfortable and impractical building: details and pictures at some future date), then many miles of roads so straight the Romans must have built them, often appalling stink from feedlots across southern Kansas (we decided not to pay for entry to Boot Hill in Dodge City, which looked like a tourist meh), and finally thrilled to see the Rockies.

One night in a decent hotel in Colorado Springs, then ten nights in a cottage in a working-class backyard, the very nice landlady a member of a cowboy church with a licence to carry. We have now moved in with a high-school mate of Ethne's while we wait for our new house: some damn bank was sitting on a piece of paper, but as I say the logjam has broken.

This could be very inconvenient in a small house with the dogs and all, but Barb and Ethne are delighted to be able to talk about everybody they used to know: they are charter members of a group of Park Forest classmates called the Dangerous Babes, including ceramicist Sylvie Granatelli and novelist Kathy Reichs ("Bones"); and Jay is a swell guy (retired high-school biology teacher) with a laid-back sense of humor. They have a boat in Mexico and will soon go away for months leaving us to house-sit. We are in the Black Forest half an hour out of town and higher than the Springs, elevation 7500 feet; their house only escaped the forest fire last year because the wind changed. Jay took me on a tour of the area yesterday: what are now open fields were recently heavily forested; about 500 homes were lost, and some of the people who lost everything are now out in the woods helping one another clean up the devastation. This is the America I heard tell about.

Meanwhile we are accomplishing a lot - joining the library, opening a new bank account, making an appointment with the Social Security people; it's true that we already have more friends here than we made in five years in Allentown, and I am told that the neighborhood we are buying into is full of the right folks, active in the yarts. I will be working at a new Barnes & Noble. It's lovely to be near our David (though right now he is in Denver for two weeks, sitting in a room doing nothing, pretending to guard some non-existing documents: they call this "training"). The future is ahead and looks good!


November 2, 2014

Two days to go

Ethne and I will not be able to vote two days from now. We neglected to vote early, or acquire absentee ballots or whatever, in Pennsylvania, and now we would have had to be here in Colorado 22 days before election day, and in any case we cannot prove we live here: no address, no driver's licence, no nothin'. Too bad.

It promises to be a cliffhanger, and of course the pundits and talking heads just won't shut up. Kate Bachelder, an assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal (remember the Rolling Stones' "under assistant west coast promo man"?) published "The Top 10 Liberal Superstitions" last Friday, full of dangling questions.

"Only 4.7% of minimum-wage earners are adults working full-time trying to support a family," Bachelder writes, "and nearly all would be eligible for the earned-income tax credit and other welfare programs." But if the minimum wage in my state is $7 and I am making $8, then I am not a minimum-wage earner for her purposes, while if the minimum wage were raised to $10, I would be a lot closer to being able to support a family, with the help of food stamps and any other "welfare programs" I could get in on. (I work in retail, so unlike Bachelder, I know some of the people she thinks she's talking about.)

Colorado's Senator Udall, who might lose his job on Tuesday, is in favor of women being paid the same as men doing the same work. Bachelder writes that "the Washington Free Beacon did a little number crunching and discovered that women in Sen. Udall's office earn 86 cents on the dollar compared with men. Whoops." But we need to know more. How many women are senior advisors in Udall's office? Are the men and women who are senior advisors and have the same qualifications paid the same? Are the boys and girls who make the coffee and stuff the envelopes paid the same?

Some of the editorialists at the Journal, like the Karl Roves and the Bill O'Reillys, are very good at comparing chalk and cheese; in fact what they do is lie to each other, and to us. And no doubt some of the "liberal" writers are just as bad, but somehow I don't feel the same need to keep an eye on them. The right has the Supreme Court on its side, which makes them more dangerous.


October 6, 2014

same old same old

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in his Business World column in the WSJ this week, was on about how Comcast, a big corporation, needs relief from government regulation, and for all I know he's right. But then his rant picks on poor Jimmy Carter, whose presidency unaccountably presided over a wonderful revolution of deregulation of "transportation and energy industries". Oh, that's when we chopped the best telephone company in the world into fifty pieces, and Bell Labs, that invented the transistor, began to disappear. That's probably also when we deregulated airlines, and TWA vanished. Is that when we deregulated electricity, leading to Enron? Maybe that's when we deregulated the Savings & Loans, whereupon many of them were stolen.

We need some deregulation, all right. So that the local authority can't tell me that I need to put railings on my ordinary front porch. So that the barber shop doesn't need a full-time employee just to sweep incessantly so that an inspector doesn't find a hair on the floor. Oh, and so that we don't have federal paramilitaries raiding guitar factories.

In today's paper the director of a company that runs hundreds of fast-food joints tells us why we don't want a higher minimum wage. How many fast-food joints do we have in any American city, and who would care if half of them closed? And if the people who work in the half that don't close earned a living wage, they'd go out and spend that money, helping to create jobs that don't involve flipping burgers.

Most people would agree that Germany, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries are prosperous, with stable economies, as well as plenty of social welfare. Germany, for instance, has strong unions. But English-speaking countries seem to prefer a laissez faire, dog-eat-dog "I've got mine, screw you" type of economy. And that's what we've got, so what's everybody complaining about?


October 4, 2014

What day is this?

I have moved house a great many times -- I go back to when us young folks, 50 years ago, moved ourselves, rather than hiring "movers" -- but I have never experienced such a bizarre move as this one. A couple of times within England, then to Texas, then Iowa, then Pennsylvania, the packers and the movers and the van came and it was accomplished all in one swoop. (The move with the least difficulty, believe it or not, was overseas, in 1998: the moving company had had a lot of experience with military families, and the only thing that went wrong was that my old Pioneer turntable got smashed, and that was because I hadn't packed it very well.)

But this time. The packers were here all day yesterday, and they're coming back Monday, and on Tuesday the van will be loaded, and Tuesday night we will be staying with friends, and on Wednesday we will embark with gratitude on a leisurely road trip. We will be staying with friends in Memphis, and I will probably confirm for myself Elvis Presley's complete lack of taste at Graceland…

But meanwhile we have to survive among stacks of boxes for an entire weekend. There's only one reading lamp in the house and I am always up before dawn; there's no cushion for my back on the sofa, so I have to sit up exceptionally straight; we managed to hold back our electric kettle, coffee, teabags etc, but it's 8:45 and my newspaper isn't here yet (I look forward all week to the review section in the Wall Street Journal); and of course the poor dogs are thoroughly confused. So I made my cuppa first thing, read a book in my Nook for a while and realized that I had forgotten my tea, went out into the kitchen to warm it up in the microwave. Ha. No microwave.

Our situation is the one for which the word 'discombobulated' was invented. 


October 3, 2014

Three score and 14 years ago...

Happy Birthday to me.

What shall I do with the absurdity--O heart,
O troubled heart--this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail?
         -- W.B. Yeats "The Tower"

I am welderly, thank you.

A liberal is a person whose interests are not at stake at the moment. An intellectual's only stake is in his ideas, and you wouldn't want to do business with someone who has nothing to lose. Conservatives are usually boring. They are all "herds of independent minds" (Harold Rosenberg).

I've been reading Joseph Epstein, whose new collection  A Literary Collection is a delight. (But I added the wisecrack about conservatives.) 

The packers are here, and I have to go back to work before Ethne hollers at me. But I know she loves me because the birthday card this morning made me swoon. 


October 2, 2014

When pigs fly

Yesterday I received a message from "", a website that rips classical recordings and stores them for anyone to download for free: 

"Hello. We have very good news for you.  Now you can donate only $10 and get full acces."

A Russian website wants me to volunteer my credit card number. Do I look stupid? Not for nothing did a Russian emigrant in the USA described his home country as "Nigeria with snow."


October 1, 2014

Bill Perry

Bill Perry

On Monday I had lunch with Billy Perry in Lititz, Pennsylvania. I have known Bill since I was seven or eight years old; we both grew up on Pershing Boulevard in Kenosha, Wisconsin; we double-dated in high school, and all that. And after graduating in 1958, we completely lost touch. Recently our high school class website notified me that he had registered there, and we lost no time in getting in touch.

We had a wonderful time catching up with news about our families, the home town and so on. He's still up on Kenosha because his daughter attends college there -- he says that the house that my dad built less than 70 years ago is gone; somebody tore it down and built another one.

Bill was a chaplain in the U.S. Navy for over 27 years; he saw the world, met five presidents, and buried Nixon; since his retirement he continues with his visitations, conducting funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, and mentoring a teenager he's been seeing for years, feeling very strongly about damaged kids.

Bill has done a lot of good in his life and he hasn't done any harm, and I am pleased to be just about his oldest friend.


September 30, 2014

Here's the circus; where's the bread?

For a spectacular human kalaidoscope, go here. The Chinese show involves a lot of choreography and technology. At first you think it's just a rather astonishing human pyramid, but it turns out to be supported by a crane, a lot of cables and no small amount of athleticism.

I thought the most interesting part was at around 6:10, where they all appear to be trying to run while attached to their superstrings. They are like so many ants. It's very impressive, but can they also democratic elections in Honk Kong?


September 30, 2014

Learn from history? Forget it

History doesn't repeat itself, but it comes back as farce.

When I was a kid in Kenosha, I knew that the war was over and that Hitler was dead, but we had a new enemy, Stalin. So that was all right. And then I grew up.

Vladimir Yakunin has "this feeling of bitterness, frankly", he says. He is the president of Russian Railways, the country's biggest employer, and a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin, and U.S. sanctions ban him from obtaining a visa and freeze any assets he may have in the USA. And being close to Putin means that he may have assets anywhere. His children live in Europe.

Yakunin was once a Soviet diplomat stationed in New York City; now he is a part-time professor at Moscow State University. He has written (or co-written, the newspaper is unclear) a 400-page monograph about Russia vs. the West, which a year ago was described by critics as a conspiracy theory; now it is being widely accepted, because the Putin clique runs Russian media, and the people are being fed a steady diet of nonsense. So according to Yakunin, his opinion that Russia and the USA are doomed to be rivals, and that the American intention is always to sabatage Russia, has become "a very realistic assessment of the situation."

Olga Kryshtanovskaya agrees. She's a sociologist who's been studying the Russian ruling class for decades."Within the elite, this ideological matrix has really taken over," she says. "They believe there is no way to mobilize the nation around a leader without an enemy." That's the same impression I had when I was ten years old. But then I grew up. Putin is a lying fascist dictator who is doing all the same things Hitler did, while all Americans want to do is business. Putin and his friends are not building anything, not creating jobs; they are busy buying penthouses, skyscrapers and football teams in the West, using money they have stolen from the Russian people; it's hard to do business with a country that has nothing but gas and oil and gangsters.

(Quotes are from Gregory L. White's article in today's Wall Street Journal)


September 28, 2014

Go west, old man (I'm packing, already.)

Seventeen days since I last wrote here. Well, I guess I've been busy. Meanwhile, in five days, on Friday October 3rd, I will be 74 years old, and the movers will be here to start packing. If they don't finish packing in one day they'll come back Monday; on Tuesday they'll load the van, and we'll be out of here; on Wednesday the house will belong to the new owners. There won't be a lot of packing because for the first time in all our moves we are doing a lot of it ourselves, to save money, and I hope and expect that this will be my last move. But it has been a hell of an experience.

I think I mentioned that we had a garage sale, which was a lot of fun, with the unsold stuff going to Goodwill, and that an auction house came and took away a lot of stuff. We gave hundreds of books to a charity that raises money for college scholarships for underpriveleged girls. And on top of all that we are just throwing away a lot of stuff.

Ethne had boxes of manuscript paper from her last two books, printouts of proofs and whatnot; don't need those. I had several photo albums from my parents and grandparents, and most of that got thrown away. It occurred to me with a start that back when we had to pay for film and processing, every snapshot went in the photo album, no matter how boring or banal; I have pictures of all my loved ones, and all I need are the nicest ones. I don't a need a small blurry photo of somebody standing next to his car in the 1970s; I don't need 90-year-old photos of people that I don't even know who they are. And someday my son will throw away my photos and I won't care 'cos I'll be dead. 

The only fly in the beer here is that the house we are buying in Colorado Springs is a short sale, and banks take a notoriously long time to do what they are supposed to do, so we don't know when we are going to be able to take possession. A friend of ours recently moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, having purchased a place on a short sale, and it took six months. That is unconscienceable, but is typical of the way banks jerk around their customers, and dovetails neatly with some of my dad's memorabilia I've been going through. He's been gone for over 20 years, after many years of working for the good old Bell Telephone Company, the best and the cheapest telephone service in the world, and he left a dozen or so letters full of high praise for his work.

First he was a salesman, and he hated it, but he was good at it, and his clients, who were buying telephone lines, switchboards and whatnot, were pleased. There's a letter from somebody at Eaton Manufacturing gently chiding a phone company manager (they were on a first-name basis) because he was getting better service from my dad than he was used to. Then Dad became a right-of-way engineer. This meant that he had to deal with property owners, sometimes ordinary folks, sometimes corporations, for permission to lay a telephone line or whatever. On one occasion the phone company needed access to a triangular piece of land between a farm, a country lane and a railroad; the farmer had farmed it for decades, but my dad found out that the farmer didn't own the land: the railroad owned it. But the railroad didn't need or want the land, and somehow my dad finagled it so that the farmer got title to the land, the phone company got access to it, everybody was happy and it didn't cost anybody a dime. And sure enough, among his papers is a letter from somebody in the phone company's legal department to some other manager saying that "If we could get Don Clarke to come to work in our department" the whole company would benefit. 

My dad always said he could do more work in one afternoon than a roomful of lawyers could do in a week, and he didn't even go to college. Too bad he's not working for the bank that's sitting on our short sale. Yet the way things are coming together is quite extraordinary. I haven't even set foot in Colorado yet, and we have more friends there than we have made in five years in Pennsylvania, including one of Ethne's high school buddies who has a place where we can stay while we wait for the bank's lawyers and accountants to pull their fingers out.

On top of everything else, someone from Pershing Boulevard in Kenosha who I have known since I was eight years old -- we double-dated in high school, and all that -- has reappeared in my life after 50 years. As a subscriber to the website of my high school class of 1958, I was notified when he registered there, and then we were looking each other up. Among the many things we have to talk about is that we both had younger brothers who took their own lives. He lives on the east coast, so before I move away we are meeting tomorrow for lunch.

With all this I feel like I am squeezing through a wormhole in time/space.


September 28, 2014

The idiot advertisers

There was an item in the Wall Street Journal ("Sorry We Canceled Your Favorite TV Show; You're Too Old", Sept. 12) about the TV series about a sheriff called Longmire, a Western set in modern times, based on a series of novels. Ethne and I enjoyed it, but it's been canceled, although it was the no. 2 show on A&E, because it doesn't draw enough younger people to suit the advertisers. It's hard to beat that kind of stupidity.

A few days later the paper printed three letters from fans of the show. One woman observed that she and her husband, while not rich, have a retirement account and a house that's paid for, and certainly have some disposable income, and A&E have canceled one of their favorite shows. Meanwhile, she wrote,

I am the mother of three 20-somethings. Here is the general breakdown on the generation advertisers and networks covet so badly: The have college debt and car loans. They can't afford a down payment on a house, so they live with roommates or back at home with their folks. Very few are buying stoves, granite counters, pool supplies or furniture. When they want to watch something, their first choice is YouTube. They are streaming online content rather than buying cable or satellite packages. Do they even watch commercials? 

Just so. But then A&E are the ones who broadcast in the USA the BBC program about Billie Holiday in which I took part. They took out a couple of the most amusing bits and scrunched the rest, squeezing the breath out of it in order to make room for commercials, and replaced the British narrator with an American who sounded like he was bored. I despair of American television.


September 28, 2014

Joseph Epstein

I have become a fan of Joseph Epstein, the retired academic who has published 23 books, many of them collections of his short pieces. He is described as the greatest American essayist, and I can believe it. Every time I see a piece of his I enjoy it just because it is well written, and then I also enjoy what he has to say. This makes me wish that when they wanted us to write essays in grade school 65 years ago they had been able to tell us what an essay is and then show us an amusing example.

The Wall Street Journal is not the only place Epstein writes, but in the current weekend edition I was delighted by a piece called "Precision Engineering", which is a review of two books about grammar and style, where he says that in the public schools of Chicago he had managed to escape the subject of grammar. The feature-length piece is full of chuckles, along with the observation that, with or without correct grammar, "Nobody seems to know why intelligent people write inscrutable prose."

But on September 12 there was a commentary on the coverage of football players beating up their wives and children ("Blitzing the NFL With Moral Preening"), pointing out that these men make their living at violence. One player described being a running back in the NFL to getting into 30 car accidents in the same afternoon, "without, I assume, wearing a seat belt." Furthermore, ever since these men began to show talent as athletes no one has said "no" to them; is it so shocking that when someone does say "no", they respond with violence? "I do not say it is right; of course it isn't. I only say it's not shocking. What is shocking is that there isn't a lot more of it."

Domestic violence is not new. Brutish men with short tempers have always engaged in it and always will. That millionaire athletes also do so is, however deplorable, almost predictable.

Meanwhile the media are provided with "a chance to exhibit their own high and irreproachable virtue." The piece is so well written that it's difficult to choose chunks of it to quote; I wish I could link to the whole thing.

And it sticks in the mind. It makes me think: how many times, as a child, was I kicked in the groin or punched in the stomach by moronic male children in my home town? I am reading about religious fascists beheading hostages; I am also reading reviews of Martin Amis's new novel, The Zone Of Interest, which is set in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, about more or less ordinary people going about their lives while they are helping to murder millions of other ordinary people. It's apparently considered perhaps controversial, setting a work of fiction in the murder factory; we cannot comprehend, we cannot understand the Holocaust. Or can we? Maybe it is as ordinary as a thuggish athlete knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator, a question of scale rather than difference.


September 11, 2014

It's so easy to pick on the Wall Street Journal

Isis was an Egyptian goddess, but she has had her name hijacked by psychotics in the Middle East. In his rant about President Obama's lack of a foreign policy, Daniel Henninger writes in today's paper that "ISIS is just the tip of the world's unstable iceberg. We're all living on the Titanic." Come, Mr. Henninger; we are not prisoners on a cruise. The religious fascists brag that they worship death, but the human race worships life: we want to watch our children grow up, and to meet our grandchildren. ISIS may very well wish to videotape themselves beheading you and me, but they cannot win, because they can't murder everybody. Do try to keep your hyperbole under control.

On another page today, a correspondent writes that one of George Bush's aims was to install a democratic government in Iraq, and that "...this foreign policy wasn't achievable due to political and social conditions in Iraq and the region that were and remain beyond our control." He continues:

The argument that if 25,000 of our soldiers had remained in Iraq for the next 25 years the foreign policy aim might have been achieved is erroneous, but at least it should have been made before going to war instead being made of necessity afterward.

It seems tacitly admitted here that the invasion of Iraq was a disaster, but if it was not to be a disaster, and if the country had been occupied and its government overseen for 25 years, a whole generation of Iraqis might have grown up in conditions of peace and democracy and economic development, and the country might have become as stable as Japan after 1945. The fact that a 25-year occupation was never likely does not make the argument erroneous.   

I only pick on my favorite newspaper because I wish it was even better. All the media could be improved if Mr. Henninger and Thornton G. Sanders of Charlottesville Virginia and indeed everybody who writes for publication would read their stuff over carefully before hitting "send".


September 10, 2014

Weazel words

The lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal today is a list of problems the world faces, particularly in the Middle East, and the first paragraph claims that President Obama is "admitting that the liberal critique of the Bush administration's approach to Islamic terrorism was wrong." Much further down, the main thrust of the paper's editorial policy continues:

Mr. Obama can blame this rising tide of disorder on George W. Bush, but the polls show that the American public doesn't believe it. They know from experience that it takes time for bad policy to reveal itself in new global turmoil. They saw how the early mistakes in Iraq led to chaos until the 2007 surge saved the day and left Mr. Obama with an opportunity he squandered. And they can see now that Mr. Obama's strategy has produced terrorist victories and more danger for America.

I am more than a little disappointed in the president myself, but these weasel words in the newspaper are revealing only of the paper's visceral hatred of Obama. Never in a million years can the Wall Street Journal admit that the "bad policy" inevitably "to reveal itself in new global turmoil" was itself the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld invasion of Iraq in 2003. However nasty a dicatator Saddam Hussein may have been, he had nothing to do with 9/11, and the invasion was an unnecessary disaster, leading to the destabilization of the entire Middle East, and so badly executed that a surge was necessary four years later because there hadn't been enough troops committed in the first place.

But all we have in the USA these days is the politics of hatred. 


September 6, 2014

The Nixon pardon

President Ford pardoned his predecessor, the crook Richard Nixon, 40 years ago, and there is a good op-ed about it in today's Wall Street Journal, by Ken Gormley and David Shribman. The pardon was a good idea; nobody wanted to put a President on trial, not even Nixon. But I don't think I knew what a valuable wrapping-up the pardon was. It included an admission of guilt, and government ownershop of Nixon's papers and tapes.

Ford's approval rating plummeted with the pardon, but immediately began to recover. I am not one of those who despise Jimmy Carter, but I wonder if we would not have been better off if Ford had won the following election. I wish we still had Republicans like him.


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