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.

«Aug 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:


August 13, 2014

Ah, memories

This wonderful Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller reminds me of several of the corporations we have worked for: August 13 2014


August 5, 2014

Well, it allows me to feel superior.

Anyone can find a lot of bad writing on the Internet, but you'd think that somebody who reviews lots of classical CDs on his blog could do a little better than this:

There’s no need to spill much ink on lambasting this performance’s utterly appalling qualities. The orchestra delivers beautiful playing in the more meditative sections, as it well should be, but whenever dramatic moments come orchestral balance and precision is thrown out of the window. The sheer amount of staggered entrances and imprecise ensemble is astonishing...  

The orchestra "well should be" what? Delivering, I suppose, but this is one of those sentences you have to read twice before giving up. A performance cannot own anything; it should have been "the appalling qualities of this performance." And it should have been "the sheer number of staggered entrances and instances of imprecise ensemble are astonishing"... Then he goes on:

But the worst thing about this performance is, without a doubt, [the conductor's] incompetent direction.

I thought that's what we were already talking about. Do these people read their stuff over before they hit send?

You expect better stuff in a print magazine, but here's some advertising copy from the current BBC Music Magazine:

harmonia mundi presents a Limited Edition boxset of benchmark Rameau recordings by Les Arts Florissants and founding director William Christie, on the 250th anniversary of his death.

I gather that the orchestra is so well trained that all they had to do was prop up the 250-year-old corpse of Mr. Christie, and the first violinist did the rest. Or in the case of the irrepressible Rameau, maybe it was the first bassoonist.


July 30, 2014

Pro-Arab or Anti-Semitic?

Bernard-Henri Levy reports in the Wall Street Journal today that anti-Israel protesters in France are recycling pictures from Syria, where Muslims are killing Muslims, using the hashtag GazaUnderAttack. Talk about double standards: how low can you get?


July 30, 2014

They befuddle me

“I have a close friend on permanent disability.  He votes reliably for the most extreme conservative in every election.  Although he’s a Nevadan, he lives just across the border in California, because that progressive state provides better social safety nets for its disabled. He always votes for the person most likely to slash the program he depends on daily for his own survival. It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party.”

Read more here.


July 29, 2014

Can we keep our eye on the ball, folks?

Glenn Greenwald is a British journalist who was involved in recycling a trove of documents stolen from the U.S. government. Now he has written a book called No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the surveillance state. From a review by Christopher Coker, in the Times Literary Supplement for July 18:

Unfortunately, what could have been an illuminating investigation of the violation of America's privacy laws is marred by an unduly partisan analysis. It is one thing to criticize the NSA's intrusive surveillance techniques, quite another to attribute it to "paranoia" on the part of a deeply divided and dysfunctional political elite. Paranoia, after all, as Richard Hoffstadter remarked fifty years ago, is part of America's "cultural style". In 1947, in an article in the Atlantic, a retired Marine officer, Cord Meyer, warned that in its attempt to secure its own citizens from Communism, the United States might come to resemble the USSR -- the price of "security" might be the shutting down of civil liberties at home. The reaction to 9/11 was predictable, and throughly American, but the U.S. is in no greater danger than it was in 1947 of becoming, as Greeenwald has it, a "national security state".

The list of Christopher Coker's qualifications is too long to append here; he is first of all a Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, and can be described as a citizen of the world. Glenn Greenwald is a typical British journalist of the Guardian stripe: anything the USA does is foolish at best, and probably sinister. He is incapable of seeing, as any American with a brain can see, that if you hand over the National security apparatus to a bunch of geeks with today's technology, they will make a list of every telephone call being made in the world, because they can, just as Richard Nixon recorded so much of his own doings 40 years ago that it would take another 40 years to transcribe the tapes.

Which brings me to Dinesh D'Souza. Some years ago he wrote such a lovely piece about Abraham Lincoln that I still have it on my hard disc; it inspired me to read a couple of books about Lincoln. Imagine my dismay subsequently to discover that D'Souza is an American so-called "conservative". He has a best-selling book out now called America: Imagine a World Without Her whose theme is said to be that American is under attack from within, a stance so extreme that other "conservatives" are having second thoughts about him. Perhaps he reminds them of the John Birch Society's Robert W. Welch proclaiming Dwight Eisenhower to be "a dedicated, conscious member of the Communist conspiracy". And now the papers say that D'Souza is on his way to the slammer for violating campaign finance law, which is already being painted as a means of silencing him.

Our biggest problem is that we are a nation of adolescents. If we weren't distracted by so much white noise from fools, maybe we could get together and recover some character. 


July 29, 2014

A laugh-out-loud moment

I am very much enjoying Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher, extremely well-written and full of detail that reminds me of Britain as it was when I went there in 1973 for what turned out to be 25 years. After she was elected to Parliament, Labour won an election in 1964, which meant that Maggie became a shadow spokesman instead of an influence. Moore quotes her:

"I hated opposition," she recalled. "I was not a natural attacker." This remark reveals a startling lack of self-knowledge, since attacking was one of the things that she did best.

Living in Britain during the entire Thatcher period was a terrific education. I remain a Democrat, a liberal and a union member, but I will define the terms, if you please: I know what words like "liberal", "conservative", "socialist" etc are supposed to mean. (Which is why I try to remember to write "American so-called conservative" when I write about certain of my fellows.) I didn't particularly like Mrs Thatcher; she seemed to be a rather shrill Philistine, and in the end she made foolish mistakes, but it was easy to see that she was what Britain needed at the time.

Moore's book is a marvellous read, and when he was editor of the Spectator, that was a golden age too.


July 29, 2014

Teachers' unions

Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, is a Democrat, a supporter of labor unions, and all that good stuff. On July 21 he published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called "Why Are Teachers Unions So Opposed to Change?" in which he seemed to say that teachers are hired and paid and laid off just like factory workers.

I was happy and proud to belong to the United Auto Workers during the 1960s, when I worked in Mitt Romney's father's car factory. For years I worked on assembly lines, doing the same repetitive task over and over, sometimes above ground (installing the headlights) and sometimes in the pit (starting the nut that held the steering linkage onto the end of the steering column, then tightening it up with a huge air-powered wrench). It was not soul-destroying work, either, I hasten to add; one laughed and joked and talked with one's co-workers: I remember telling one kid dozens of stories I had read, finally realizing that the reason he enjoyed this so much was that he was illiterate, and had never read stories for himself. But the point is that anybody can be taught to do these repetitive tasks. We needed a union like the UAW to look out for us proles, balancing the power of Wall Street and big corporations in one corner, and the government in another. It all worked fine for decades in the USA.

Then I accidentally heard some good lectures, and decided that that I needed to leave the car factory and go to college after all, a so-called "mature student" (ha!). I had to choose a field of study, and decided to major in education, for several reasons: it is an important area; it might have qualified me for a job if I wanted to teach, and I was curious to find out why education in Kenosha had basically bored my pants off in the 1950s. In the end I obtained an honors degree, which meant I had a very good grade-point average, having got a few A grades for the first time in my life, basically for reading books that I wanted to read anyway.

But I did not teach, except for a small amount of student teaching, and two weeks in the London Borough of Mitcham and Morden, as I think it was then called. (Again, Charles Moore's book about Margaret Thatcher brings it all back: she was Minister of Education under Ted Heath just as the British were raising the school-leaving age and allowing comprehensives [American-style high schools] to take over from the time-honored grammar-school system, probably a mistake of which Thatcher did not entirely approve.] It was apparent to me that I was not cut out to be a teacher. Oh, I could have done very well with a small class of kids who needed remedial reading, but that kind of job was not on offer, and there was no way I could ride herd on a roomful of 30 or 40 kids whose parents in some cases didn't care whether they went to school at all. Before I went to Britain, in a wonderful suburban middle school in Madison WIsconsin, and then in Hope near Wrexham, a village in North Wales, and then in South London, I saw very good dedicated teachers, and I was old enough to know that I was not one of them. 

The point is that teachers are not like factory workers, and if their unions insist that they are employed that way -- last in last out, seniority rules, everyone paid the same whether they are any good at their jobs or not -- then the unions need to be brought up short. That would be a necessary part of the solution to the problem of education in the USA in the 21st century.


July 22, 2014

The criminal regime in Russia

The criminal Russian regime steals its own people blind and ships the money out of the country, buying penthouses in Manhattan, football teams, yachts, whatever; we know which banks are laundering the money, but we do nothing about it.

The criminal Russian regime bombs Grozny flat, creating a generation of hopeless young people who think nothing of bombing a marathon in Boston, but we do nothing about it. The regime murders its perceived enemies, businessmen, journalists, whistle-blowers and so on, and even murders them on foreign soil, and we do nothing about it. The regime enables thugs and hoodlums to destabilize other sovereign nations, and we do nothing about it. Now they have shot down a civilian airliner, murdering 298 innocent people, and we do nothing about it.

Many Russians evidently believe what they are told by their tightly-controlled television; there are independent voices in Russia, to say nothing of the Internet, but like most people, Russians believe whatever they see on a screen. Russia is half in and half out of the modern western world; the criminal regime depends on its oil and gas to keep it afloat, but that isn't going to last forever; Russia wants to do business with the West, and it would be easy to put the pinch on them and make them behave without a single boot on the ground, but we continue to cooperate with a criminal regime.

I saw President Obama on TV, and remembered why I voted for him. Twice. He speaks well. But I am now remembering the words of Milton in his Areopagitica

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd virtue, unexercis'd and unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. 


July 19, 2014

Income inequality

The French economist Thomas Piketty has published a best-seller -- imagine a 645-page book about economics becoming a best-seller! -- called Capital In The Twenty-FIrst Century. He has examined statistics going back to the French revolution, able to go back that far because that's when France began keeping meticulous records, and he seems to demonstrate something that Marx probably already knew: if capitalism is unregulated, the value of capital will increase faster than the value of labor.

That's why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The 20th century was disfigured by two terrible world wars, the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s and much else, but now that things are getting back to what passes for normal, we are seeing increasing economic inequality, as we were seeing it a hundred years ago.

Needless to say, the so-called American "conservatives" don't like the news. A couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, somebody from the Cato Institute cried that Piketty's statistics are wrong, at least as far as the USA is concerned, because something or other wasn't taxed 40 years ago, but is now, and something else was taxed 40 years ago, but isn't now. As so often, the Times Literary Supplement is more reliable. in its June 27 issue, a long, fascinating review of Piketty's book by Duncan Kelly includes this:

There is considerable disagreement in current economic work about whether the site of the real movement in extreme wealth inequality is taking place in the top 0.1 per cent, the top 1 per cent, or the top 5-10 per cent. That's because how you choose to measure inequality matters for the sort of political conclusions you want to draw. You would struggle to find a serious scholar, though, who disagreed that particularly in Britain and America, rising wealth inequality is the norm rather than the exception. 

Just so. The middle class in the USA is losing confidence in its own country and there simply aren't enough decent jobs for ordinary folks, no matter what sort of blinders some people choose to wear.


July 19, 2014

The beasts who fired the missile

It is clear that the Russians have supplied anti-aircraft missiles to the thugs and criminals who are causing all the trouble in eastern Ukraine, and that they have shot down a civilian airliner, killing nearly 300 people. Fritz Plous has a good idea:

If Obama really wants to take charge of this situation he should call the allies together -- along with the airline industry -- and arrange an immediate embargo on all commercial air traffic into Russia from outside. No flights over or into any Russian-controlled terrirory until Putin comes to the table and agrees to disarm the so-called "separatists."  And no Aeroflot flights out. You want to go to Moscow to to business? Fly to Warsaw and take the overnight train.

Ah, but that would take a president with some guts. Once again I wish I could vote for Harry Truman. Does anyone remember the Berlin airlift? 


July 17, 2014

Fame at last

Anton Garcia-Fernandez, a professor of Spanish at the University of Tennessee at Martin, is also a music fan. He has been interviewing me about my biography of Frank Sinatra for his website, and I think it's turning out rather well. You can see it here.


July 17, 2014

Kansas City

We've just spent a week in Kansas City with our pals John and Nancy McGee, and we are more than ever convinced that we'd like to live there. We visited the Truman library in Independence, and had lots of good eats and drinks. Boulevard's Double-Wide IPA is about as good a beer as I have ever had out of a bottle, and Q39 (on 39th Street in Kansas City Missouri) serves the best BBQ we have had since leaving Texas.


July 9, 2014

Harry Truman

Back in the early 1990s, browsing in a bookstore in Washington DC with a pal, Larry Miller, he pointed out David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman, then a recent best-seller, and told me what a good book it was. I've been intending to read it ever since -- over 20 years! -- and recently, visiting another friend, David Seeler, on Long Island, David gave me his copy. (Like me, David has too many books.)

Well, it's almost 1,000 pages long, not counting the index, and I've just finished it. I wasn't been able to put it down. Here is one of the most striking parts, from Truman's last State of the Union address, before he left the White House in 1952:

As the free world grows stronger, more united, more attractive to men on both sides of the Iron Curtain -- and as Soviet hopes for easy expansion are blocked -- then there will have to come a time of change in the Soviet world. Nobody can say for sure when that is going to be, or exactly how it will come about, whether by revolution, or trouble in the satellite states, or by a change inside the Kremlin.
      Whether the Communist rulers shift their policies of their own free will -- or whether the change comes about in some other way -- I have no doubt in the world that a change will occur.

What a man he was, and what a great American! A bright farm boy from Missouri who loved to read, and especially loved history, he served memorably in the First World War, became part of the Pendergast political machine in Kansas City without being tarnished by it, and ended up President of the United States almost by accident, winning a tremendous upset victory in 1948, and serving almost two full terms.

He knew what the Cold War was going to be about from the beginning. He knew that we had to go into Korea -- to keep our guard up -- and also that we had to keep each "police action" from exploding into a world war. And he knew that Soviet Communism was a house of cards, yet when it eventually collapsed, Ronald Reagan got the credit. And he might not have cared who got the credit.

Would that we had such leaders today.


July 8, 2014


One of the things the papers are flapping about is the Export-Import Bank, a GSE (Government Sponsored Enterprise) that helps companies trying to export goods and services: should its charter be renewed or should it be abolished? The myopic Tea Party types are screaming corporate welfare! which is yet more evidence that they live in la-la land, where the playing fields are equal. One correspondent in the Wall Street Journal writes,

It is true that one company, Boeing, is the biggest beneficiary of the bank, but it faces a very large competitor, Airbus Group [in Europe, which] has an elaborate government support system that includes subsidized government financing. Airlines and other export customers buy where they can get the best deal. Do we want to lose our commercial airline industry?

A James McDevitt had written an op-ed about his business, much smaller that Boeing: "My Company Depends on the Ex-Im Bank". Another letter-writer composes several long paragraphs questioning why banks don't step up to help Mr. McDevitt if his product is in demand overseas:

So there is a market where firms can make a profit, and private institutions are driven only by profit, but somehow these markets are left open for GSEs to fill the gap? I don't quite understand the logic.

That's because there isn't any logic. The banks are sitting on trillions of dollars that they are not investing. They are not creating anything, let alone jobs, because they want bigger and faster returns than they can get from investing in solid American businesses, even if their bigger and faster returns soon turn to ashes and smoke, like bundles of toxic mortgages. The banks are not your friend. The banks are very very stupid.


July 8, 2014

Group insurance

Way back around 1950 Walter Reuther and the auto manufacturers invented the modern version of the group health insurance plan for members of the United Auto Workers. Reuther saw that if you had a large enough group to insure, with (mostly older) people who go to the doctor a lot and (younger) people who rarely go to the doctor, the insurance premiums could be lower for everybody. He wanted a group plan to cover all his members, but the car companies wouldn't go for it, afraid that saving everybody money would give the union too much power, so there had to be separate group plans for Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Nash, Hudson, Studebaker etc etc. Even so, group plans worked well for decades, and should have been a model for a national insurance plan for the whole country. But the USA was and still is too obnoxious to do the sensible thing.

There was no cherry-picking: each group plan had to be the same for everybody, otherwise it wouldn't have worked. Now we have a ragbag called the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which nobody likes, because we can't get what we want, which is a national group plan. But my grandson, who is diabetic, has health insurance for the first time in his life, so Obamacare is an improvement over nothing. I guess Obamacare provides group plans for employers, perhaps depending on how many employees they have; I don't know the details; but now the idiots on the Supreme Court have enabled cherry-picking for the obnoxious among us.

Someone called Davis, who runs a chain of shops called Hobby Lobby, objected to some of the provision for birth control advice that could be supplied to his employees, believing that the "morning after" pill and the intrauterine device amount to abortion of a fertilized egg. Doctors and scientists say that these methods are in fact intended to prevent fertilization, not to abort anything, but the (deeply divided) Supremes decided that Davis's religious beliefs, if "sincerely held", whether they are right or wrong, entitled him to cherry-pick the new health insurance provision. Never mind that none of his employees would have been forced to accept any sort of birth control advice whatsoever, or that some of his employees might have wished to do so.

I seem to remember people disapproving of the Vietnam War refusing to pay taxes to support it, on account of their sincerely held religious belief that "Thou shalt not kill". I can't think of anything more fundamental than the Ten Commandments, but it didn't work back then. Maybe we are becoming stupider by the decade.


« Previous