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.

«Jan 2015»

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:


January 23, 2015

Internet equality?

Almost 100 years ago the federal government handed broadcasting to commercial interests on a plate, a terrible mistake. That is the reason why the USA never had anything like the excellent national broadcasting systems that every European country has, most notably the BBC, respected around the world, and making money for Britain with the excellence of its programming. Now the Federal Communications Commission (a bad joke) wants to regulate the Internet, the most successful enterprise of the new century, which until now has had innovators scrambling to make it better, faster, more accessible. The best way to ensure Internet equality would be to leave it to hell alone.


January 20, 2015

The New Republic

On my recent move across the USA, part of my reading matter was the 100th Anniversary Issue of The New Republic, the magazine which printed my first published work back around 1970. It was a weekly "Journal of Politics and the Arts" for most of its history, and I had been a subscriber for decades. It had been founded by people like Edmund Wilson and Walter Lippmann, names which are being forgotten by the masses surfing the Net. A few years ago it became a fortnightly. It never made any money, but that wasn't the point of The New Republic; it was always owned by people who believed in it and who could keep it going one way or another. Lately the best thing about it had been Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor and columnist, who had been there for 32 years.

The anniversary issue was full of reminiscence and fun stuff about the magazine's history, as well as some of the usual commentary. There was a very good read by David Thompson about the classic Alain Resnais movie Hiroshima Mon Amour (1953), relating its subject matter and its critical history to the history of the magazine, and ending this way:

And so we have an unforgettable film and a momentous event, but soon enough they will be unremembered. Even a hundred-year-old magazine, proud and illustrious, eloquent and earnest, right and wrong, may turn into vapor. We are more fragile than we think.

The anniversary issue was dated "November 24 & December 8, 2014". A centennial gala in November was attended by President Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who gave the toast. Meanwhile the paper had been purchased in 2012 by Chris Hughes, a rich kid from Facebook who had no idea what he was doing. Suddenly he and his team announced that they were moving the magazine from Washington DC to New York and that it would henceforth become a vertically-oriented digital media company; then they hired a new editor (who had never edited a magazine) without telling the editor, Franklin Foer, who had spent 14 years with The New Republic. While the 100th Anniversary Issue was on the stands, Foer and Wieseltier, 21 senior editors and staff writers and 36 out of 38 contributing editors all resigned. The next issue of the magazine was set in galleys and almost finished, but the writers began to withdraw their work, and The New Republic missed an issue for the first time in its history.

The next issue isn't due until February. No one can imagine what it will look like.


January 15, 2015

Johnny Sobott

Johnny Sobott

I've been forgetting to mention that I've been reunited with another old pal. On October 1st I posted a picture with Bill Perry, who I hadn't seen in 50 years; my reunion with Johnny Sobott, another Kenosha kid, is perhaps less dramatic, because we have been in touch over the years, but he lives near Denver and now we have got together for only the second time in decades. We had a marvelous lunch at Rock Bottom in Colorado Springs on 3 January: there were six of us, including Ethne, John's lovely Dottie, and our son David and his wife Saream. Johnny having been in the Army a long time ago, he and David found plenty to talk about.

Johnny played tenor sax in the high school band; I remember listening to him practice in his basement. Another dear friend, the late Louis Costanzo, played clarinet; John Brintnall played trombone; and of course I knew them all because we all loved music. Johnny later picked the reeds again, and now serenades folks around Denver, playing and even singing standards. When he joined the Army 50 years ago, strangely enough he was sent here to Colorado Springs for his basic training, rather than Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Dottie graduated from high school in 1958, like the rest of us, but in Mississippi; then moved to Kenosha to go to work for her uncle, who ran gas stations. (I used to trade at Pierce's at 22nd Avenue and 60th Street; I seem to remember a cute gal there who used to take my money and give me a receipt: I wonder if it was Dottie!) Her first husband was Brintnall; he played trombone in an Army band here in Colorado Springs, and their daughter was born here 50 years ago. And here we all are in the same place. And recently I exchanged a few emails with the beautiful Sue Ensfield, who I have known since first grade. I wonder how many more dear old friends will resurface before I kick off my clogs!


January 15, 2015

Oh, by the way...

Oh, by the way...

Here is the whole fam damly at Christmas 2014: Left to right are Louis the black-and-tan Cavalier, David the son and heir, Ethne the boss and the inspiration for the rest of us, Betty the Blenheim, Saream the lovely daughter-in-law, and the old pooperoo.


January 14, 2015

When do the snarl-ups end?

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old or if it’s my family or what, but each year I seem to enjoy the holidays, then I’m glad when they’re over, then things never seem to get back to whatever normal is. This year has been complicated by the big trek west, easily the most disruptive move of my life, or so it seems. I want to write down the whole story of the move (replacing a piece I managed to insert here six weeks ago), but it's hard to get to it.

There has been a lot of trouble with refrigerators which I won’t go into. We bought a new gas cooker and after about two weeks it exploded: wires underneath it arced, apparently (the oven burns gas but has an electric convection fan): popping noises, burning smells and smoke, but no blown fuses and the clock and the lights still work. All very mysterious. On Christmas day we had to take one of our dogs to an emergency vet; something wrong with his butt (he’s fine now). (Every year there is an emergency during the Holidays; in Pennsylvania it usually meant calling RotoRooter, which we will never have to do again, thanks to an unexpected expenditure of several thousand dollars on our sewer line from the new house in Colorado to the street. More about that later.) This morning my son had to go to the doctor; this afternoon his wife leaves for Stockton to see her family and then goes to Korea for a year; tomorrow morning I have to go to work at Barnes & Noble at 7 A.M. shelving, which is no fun because the receiving crew are zombies, unlike most B&N employees the dourest people I have ever known, and in the afternoon Ethne has to go to the doctor... When do I get to go to the doctor? After wearing glasses for 65 years I am having a hell of a time getting my eyes examined: there are ophthalmologists here who don't do prisms. Imagine a mechanic who doesn't have a full set of wrenches.

I have a pair of speakers and an amp and my computer set up in a corner of the living area. David has a four-day weekend starting Friday and we are going to move a wall, taking space away from a long garage and adding it to a shed behind the garage, which will become my man-cave; so in a week or so I may be unpacking my stuff instead of everybody else’s.

Meanwhile, yesterday I tried to do something on my website for the first time since October: I was updating my Horenstein CD discography with Pristine Audio’s recent issues; I was trying to copy the French ç in the name of the French national radio orchestra (trying to be oh so clever), and the first time it was the wrong font and the wrong size, so I was trying it again, and half the file disappeared, from STRAUSS to the end, including the fascinating story of Chief Records leasing the M4 from EMI… I wasn't going to compile it all over again, so I thought I would just delete the whole thing, but I found an earlier version still on Len Mullenger’s Musicweb site (without the Chief story). Now when I get my CDs unpacked I'll have to check the Horenstein shelf... Do I need this? Would I be better off without the website? One less thing to have on my mind. I don’t even get 60 hits a day on my Encyclopedia. Maybe I should throw the whole damn thing away.

Not just yet. I confess I like to see my words in print. Whatever "print" means nowadays.


January 14, 2015

America's Bitter Pill

Malcolm Gladwell, reviewing Steven Brill's new book about the Affordable Care Act, America's Bitter Pill, writes in the New Yorker:

Brill's intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn't really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.

This is spot on. Gladwell also reminds us again that we might be better off without the president's gatekeeper, Valerie ("the President wants you to bring us your solutions, not your problems") Jarrett, who merely seems to be in the way; but then this has to be blamed on Obama, for needing a gatekeeper like Jarrett in the first place. If I were a president contemplating historic legislation or important foreign policy moves, I would want to know what the problems are likely to be. It is scary that no one seems to have been responsible for the disaster of the Obamacare roll-out.


January 14, 2015

Al Sisi gets to the point

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, speaking at Al-Azhar University in Cairo on 28 December, quoted in the Wall Street Journal:

I have talked about this several times in the past... It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world... I am referring not to "religion", but to "ideology"--the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult...
      It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world's population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable. I say these things here, at Al-Azhar, before religious clerics and scholars. May Allah bear witness on Judgement Day to the truth of your intentions, regarding what I say to you today. You cannot see things clearly when you are locked [in this ideology]. You must emerge from it and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology... Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion...
      Honorable Imam [the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar], you bear responsibility before Allah. The world in its entirety awaits your words, because the Islamic nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition. We ourselves are bringing it to perdition.  


December 25, 2014

Another Christmas

About 2000 years ago the Prince of Peace, the greatest of prophets, was born. Jesus of Nazareth was a giant of intellect and psychology; he brought to the forefront from within his religion, the Hebrew religion, the principle: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He taught us that the church and the state were separate and must always be separate. He taught us that each human being must be responsible for his/her own behavior. He taught us how to live, and if that wasn't enough, he taught us how to die. His life was the beginning of the modern history of the human race.

For many centuries, empires and princes tried to coopt or subvert Jesus's message, but the essense of it belonged to each of us, not to any authority. Then, a hundred years ago, not for the first time, the empires had forgotten that message, and stumbled into the most terrible war in history, which turned our world upside down, a mistake for which we are still paying. But a hundred years ago today, the Great War was still only a few months old; and a hundred years ago today, celebrating the birthday of Jesus, the soldiers sang each others' songs from the trenches, and then emerged from the trenches with their hands up, unilaterally declaring a truce: they shook hands, exchanged presents, and played football in no man's land. The truce lasted in some places almost into the New Year, and only ended when the officers ordered the men back into battle.

If only the soldiers had continued to listen to each other.


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 there are more drivers with tattoos and loud exhaust systems, such as we wanted when we were teenagers before we grew up.) There are plenty of 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 almost 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 here 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 thought I didn't much care for. Next year they will be doing Brahms' First Symphony, one of my favorite pieces since I was a kid.

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 Lebanon Tennessee, 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 trap), 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 classmate 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 a forest fire in 2013 because the wind had changed. Jay took me on a tour of the area on November 1: 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.


« Previous