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.

«Sep 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:


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 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.


September 4, 2014

With all the things that are in the news...

You have to be an awfully stupid celebrity to expect that if you allow pictures of yourself naked to be stored in a digital medium like your phone, your computer, your cloud, whatever, they are going to remain private. Haven't they been reading the papers? There's, like, a problem with privacy nowadays, like, you have to watch out for it. Like, it doesn't exist anymore unless you maintain it yourself. Geddit? Maybe it is part of the definition of celebrity itself that they are incapable of understanding such things.


September 4, 2014

In a certain big-box store...

...They have rearranged the DVDs on the shelves so that instead of having all the television programs in alphabetical order they are divided into "1960s Classics", "1970s Classics", "1980s Classics" etc, "Current TV", "Contemporary TV" (?), "HBO", as well as some residual dumps such as "Drama", "Sci-Fi TV", "Kids TV" and so on. So if you're browsing the shelves looking for something, you have to know when it was made, maybe even who made it, and what category some minion at head office thinks it belongs in. And what if it is a series that started in one decade and continued into another? What if it's something you just thought of when you walked into the store? This retail company will be losing sales because people will find it harder to find what they are looking for, and clerks will have to waste time looking things up in a computer to find out where they might be.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, and further evidence that if half the marketing people in the country were fired, the economy would immediately receive an enormous boost. 


September 4, 2014

At the cash desk...

The cash desk in a big-box store is cluttered with stuff that marketing people think will make impulse purchases. Recently we have seen "Colored Smencils", at $14.95 for ten of them, in a fancy soft plastic pouch with a zipper. "The world's only Gourmet Scented Pencils". People who are still capable of thought chew on pencils while they are thinking, so these pencils come in flavors such as "Gum-E Bear", "Juicy Melon", "Black Berry Pear" etc. But they are "not for children", and "non-toxic", though they come from China, which has problems with its food...

If we can manufacture this rubbish and ship it halfway around the world to be sold to people with more money than brains, why, clearly there's no point in worrying about the world economy, energy, carbon emissions, or anything else. We're all doomed.


September 4, 2014

Just another parasite

Between us, before we got together and since we melded our fortunes, Ethne and I have bought and sold seven houses in 50 years. Only twice have we encountered the sort of inspector who is hired by a buyer to check out the new place, and who arrives with a bag of tools and gadgets and a laptop. They are the sort of experts who put on a defensive air of superiority.

The first time was in Texas in 2003. A fool who, I suspect, was pretending that he wanted to buy our house to string along his wife, who loved the place; he offered the asking price, and brought along an inspector friend of his, who ran the air conditioning full blast until I had to put a jacket on. The friend's report said that we had termites in our garage and damp in our roof, neither of which was true. (I had a termite guy around to make sure, who finally became exasperated: "Look, my business is solving termite problems; if you had termites I'd tell you, wouldn't I?") The pretend buyer wanted a reduction in price of $10,000 or something like that. Later I wished I had tried negotiating with him, but the sale was queered because I react badly to having my intelligence insulted.

Now here in Pennsylvania another expert with a laptop swaggered around our house last week for three hours, but this time we had agreed on a price and established that no matter what the so-called inspector found the price would not change, and the buyers liked the house so much that they had been driving by for years waiting for it to go on sale. After two hours of sitting on the back porch and walking the dogs I was astonished to find that the expert hadn't gone upstairs yet. The buyers were here and the agent showed up and at one point they were all standing around in the basement for half an hour laughing and talking; I thought maybe I was supposed to offer them wine and cheese. After they all left we were not allowed to open any doors or windows on two of the most beautiful days of the year because a gizmo in basement was measuring the radon.

This time the report complained that there was some old wiring that used ceramic connectors in the basement. The 80-year-old basement has been rewired, because I was irritated that the lights down there were on three different circuits; the old wiring isn't connected to anything. Oh, and the radon is within acceptable limits: good thing too, because it there's radon here it has been here for hundreds of thousands of years.

The inspector from the buyers' mortgage company walked around for 15 minutes and took a few snapshots. I don't know who insisted on another, three-hour inspection with a laptop and a bag of gizmos, or how much it cost. Save us from experts.


September 4, 2014

How we live now

Our son David is here on leave from Fort Carson in Colorado, helping us with our garage sale and lots of other things. He and I have a good time griping about this and that; he will make a worthy curmudgeon, carrying on the family tradition. He dislikes Facebook and certainly doesn't tweet, not being a twit. He doesn't even read my blog. We agree that the Internet is a retrograde step for civilization: it's ruined the music business, it's ruining publishing, magazines, newspapers...

Well, guess what. The knucklebuster is back, reports the Wall Street Journal. A businessman in Ohio "has stockpiled more than 8,000 of the old-fashioned credit-card-processing machines, known for their tendency to scrape the fingers of the merchants who operate them...He has enough spare parts to assemble another 2,000 if need be." And there seems to be an increasing demand for them. No electricity, nothing digital, no swiping...No security breach!

Is the revolution beginning? 


September 4, 2014

A savage review

Very often, reading reviews of books or music, one gets the impression that nothing is ever really awful. So it's refreshing to read a bad review. Ludovico Einaudi is a composer of the kind of aimless meandering music they play in massage studios to relax you; on a recent CD it is arranged for harp and played on that instrument by Lavinia Meije, described as one of the world's greatest harpists by Brian Reinhardt, who is reviewing the CD at Musicweb-International. 57 minutes of continuous uplift is impossible, he writes, about

an album so relaxing, peaceful and soothing brain cells attempted mass suicide...[a certain track] is the shortest track on the album. It's also the best. It sounds the same as the others, but it's shorter, and that makes it the best... This music could not ask for a better performer. In fact, it probably could not bribe one.

Yes, but what does he really think of it? Some of this made me laugh out loud.


August 24, 2014

Get me outta here

Arthur Goldman, a lawyer in suburban Philadelphia, is an oenophile, which means that he takes wine very seriously and collects fancy stuff. Unlike most of us, who look for bargains and enjoy a nice glass of wine, Mr Goldman has a collection of 2,426 bottles which might be worth up to $125,000. And the state of Pennsylvania wants to take it away from him and destroy it.

This is because like most of us around here, if he wants to buy wine from out of state, he has it shipped to an address in New Jersey and drives across the border to collect it. Everybody knows this goes on and even Pennsylvania's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement knows better than to try to control that; unfortunately however, Mr Goldman started doing it for a small group of a dozen or so like-minded friends, and even if he isn't making a penny, the bureaucrats who work for the most corrupt state legislature in the USA cannot allow him to "sell" wine without their permission.

I should say here that the people who work in Pennsylvania's state-owned liquor stores are the salt of the earth, and the stores have a pretty decent selection, even if they can't cater to high-end collectors like Mr Goldman. Nevertheless I am very glad -- SO glad -- to be moving from a state that has never approved of the repeal of Prohibition to a state that is actually undoing another, later prohibition.


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