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.

«Jul 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:


April 27, 2015

A good book

We've just finished reading Donna Leon's By Its Cover, her latest mystery to come out in paperback. She has a new one in hardback called Falling In Love, which I must take out of the library.

Leon is originally from New York. She has written around 20 books about Commissario Guido Brunetti, a cop in Venice. Sometimes the bad guy gets caught, sometimes he doesn't, and sometimes there isn't any bad guy after all. The books are about Brunetti, his colleagues, his family, about Venice and about Italy. And Leon is a very good novelist. Nearly every paragraph has its revealing felicities. Brunetti is on his way to a library where somebody has been stealing rare books; a motorboat is being driven by Foa, the Questura's faithful pilot. 

As they completed their turn into the bacino [basin] and looked forward again, they both gasped...Ahead of them was the stern of one of the newest, largest cruise ships. Its enormous rear end stared bluntly back at them, as if daring them to comment.
      Seven, eight, nine, ten stories. Was this possible? From their perspective, it blocked out the city, blocked out the light, blocked out all thought of sense or reason or the appropriateness of things. They trailed along behind it, watching the wake it created avalanche slowly towards the rivas on both sides, tiny wave after tiny wave, and what in God's name was the vast expanse of displaced water doing to those stones and the centuries-old binding that kept them in place?...
      They could see, scores of meters above them, people lining the deck, turned like sunflowers to the beauty of the Piazza and the domes and the bell tower. A vaporetto [water bus] appeared on the other side, coming towards them, and the people on the deck, no doubt Venetians, raised their fists and shook them at the passengers, but the tourists were looking the other way and failed to see the friendly natives. Brunetti thought of Captain Cook, dragged from the surf, killed, cooked, eaten by other friendly natives...

If you've ever been to Venice and seen one of those cruise ships dwarf the city, you will know exactly what Leon is writing about. The Venetians hate them; why are they allowed to come so close? There are reasons for the incompetence of the authorities. The decision-making is divided up among so many committees and agencies so that no one expects them to come to a decision, so that they can keep busy hiring their wives and children as consultants, and "picking up small gifts that fall from the table of the companies that own the ships?"

Each Leon novel is like living for a few days in that incomparably beautiful city, as well as a cracking good mystery.


April 27, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

A couple of weeks ago Peggy Noonan wrote about an off-Broadway play called Hamilton, about Alexander Hamilton, a great American whose face is on our ten-dollar bill, and whose end was tragic. Having recently read Joseph Ellis's wonderful book Founding Brothers, I was moved by what Noonan was writing. Then I realized that the play is a musical. And that what the 18th-century characters are given to sing is...rap. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Dan Neil recently wrote about attending a stock car race. An honest-to-god stock car race, a family outing on a dirt track with fried baloney sandwiches for sale, no plastic NASCAR clothes in sight. I didn't know there were still such things; it was somewhere down south, but I was reminded of my aunt and uncle taking me to a stock car race over 60 years ago, in New Jersey. I went to the WSJ website to look for Neil's piece yesterday but couldn't find a way to search for something a few weeks old.

Looking at the WSJ's monthly magazine, which is nothing but expensive fashion photography, I found myself wondering why the models all seem to be mouth-breathers. Is this related to their anorexia? I refer of course to the women; the boys merely look surly, spivs that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

The paper continues to cover the saga of the lawyer Michael Bromwich, who has been authorized by federal judges to screw Apple out of millions of dollars. He is a monitor, following a federal court ruling that making books available on an iPad is somehow price-fixing (next thing you know they'll come to arrest my wife for reading them). The ruling is probably nonsense and in any case is being appealed, but meanwhile Bromwich gets to poke his nose into everything at Apple, and they have to pay for it. Sometimes when I am reading the news I think I must have been abducted by aliens.


April 16, 2015

We're safe for sure

Here is the whole of a letter to the Wall Street Journal, from Buchanan Dam, Texas (pop. 1,519), published on April 14:

In a March 30 letter to the Journal on the presidential candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz, reader Marvin Maul exclaims, "Shades of 1964!," referring of course to the defeat of Barry Goldwater by Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Maul's long-term memory seems to be far better than his short-term memory. I remember Goldwater, but I also remember in the more recent past the defeats of establishment darlings such as Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and, I fear in the near future, Jeb Bush. Northeastern establishment Republicans may lead their favorites to the ballot, but they can't make us vote.

Well, that's a relief. You just keep on staying home unless your party nominates a crackpot, Mr. Rural Texas, and we will be safe from another Republican in the White House at least as long as I'm alive. 


April 16, 2015

In the driveway...

In the driveway...

 What? Snow in April??

This is Colorado! It was shirtsleeves yesterday; it will be shirtsleeves tomorrow! I love this climate!

UPDATE: The next morning the fluffy snow was six inches deep. By the end of the day it was all gone.


April 15, 2015

In the back yard

In the back yard

Cherry blossoms at dusk.


April 14, 2015

In the front yard

In the front yard

Seven addresses Ethne and I have lived together, and this crabapple tree in Colorado springs is the most beautiful tree we have ever had.

Workmen next door were enchanted last week; one of them said, "It's been getting better all day!" It has no scent, but its gloriously friendly color comes in through the windows and tints our interior.

We haven't done much landscaping yet, but the place already has a new personality. Today was our 36th wedding anniversary, and the magic is still happening.


April 12, 2015

Beneath Pikes Peak

Beneath Pikes Peak

A beautiful evening in the back yard last night, and we used the chiminea for the first time in years. Ethne says the next time we ought to make some horseshoes while we're at it.

In the morning we had hauled a carload of garden rubbish to a site that recycles it into mulch. Then I spent spent the afternoon clearing brush from the alley behind our house, while Ethne continued tidying up her garden, where her daffs and tulips are already waving their heads.

Some evenings a beer tastes even better than others.


April 7, 2015

Save us from grown-up children

Jeff Bezos is known for refusing to suffer fools. His reported put-downs include: "Why are you wasting my life?," "Are you lazy or just incompetent?" and "I'm sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?" Imagine someone as impatient as the Amazon CEO being forced to move at the speed of bureaucrats.

Thus a columnist in the Wall Street Journal defends and promotes the man who wants to deliver 85% of Amazon parcels using drones (that's how many weigh less than five pounds). What makes these juvenile delinquents think that the rest of us want miniature flying machines whizzing around our neighborhoods a few feet above our heads? How can these people be stopped?

Once a year or so we read about people getting killed on a movie set, often involving a helicopter. It might be safer to use drones when making movies whenever possible. How many movies are made each year, and how many parcels does Amazon deliver each day?

Once a month or so in the USA nowadays a man is killed (it's always a man) walking down railroad tracks listening to music with earphones, so that he can't hear the train coming. Our stupidity beggars belief. 

Come to think of it, our politicians are usually men, too.


April 7, 2015

Is it still okay if I get up in the morning?

Indiana's Religious Freedom Act should be unnecessary under our constitutional protections. Discrimination is unconsitutional under the 14th Amendment. Forced participation against one's conviction is equally unconsitutional under the First Amendment. These should encourage reasonable people to accommodate one another.
So writes a reader to the Wall Street Journal. Most of the readers of that paper are reasonable people. The problem is our stupid and greedy politicians. Each year in the legislatures, local, state and federal, hundreds, maybe thousands of laws are passed, a great many of them unnecessary, by politicians trying to show us how effective they are, or simply sucking up to their base. (The base in Indiana seems to be pale, male and stale. There are many meanings of the word "base".)

As I keep saying, I am a liberal, a Democrat and a union member. Yet I also say to you that our democracy is doomed unless we remember how to allow each other simply to be.


April 7, 2015

I thought so

David Barash reviewing a book in last weekend's Wall Street Journal:

There is a single chunk of DNA that dooms its carriers to shorter life spans and a greater probability of death due to accidents, as well as increased risk of being not only violent but also a victim of violence. More than 90% of people who run afoul of the law and are currently incarcerated carry this gene [...] It’s a tough road for those unfortunates who are forced, through no fault of their own, to deal with such defective genetics: There is no cure. The SRY gene is located on the Y chromosome, and if you haven’t already guessed, it’s the one that makes its carrier male.

SRY comes from “Sex determining Region of the Y chromosome.” The book is Women After All, by Melvin Konner, who makes a powerful case that in every way that matters, women are superior to men. Furthermore, it is becoming more and more evident in our societies that "their trustworthiness, reliability, fairness, working and playing well with others, relative freedom from distracting sexual impulses, and lower levels of prejudice, bigotry, and violence make them biologically superior. They live longer, have lower mortality at all ages, are more resistant to most categories of disease, and are much less likely to suffer brain disorders that lead to disruptive and even destructive behavior."

Dr. Konner is no crank, but a professor of anthropology at Emory University.  In making his case, he explores evolutionary biology, ethology, neurobiology, embryology and history, with digressions into economics and politics. Barash writes, quoting Konner:

Let’s face it: Men are responsible for much more than their share of the world’s wars, drug abuse and sexual misbehavior. To be sure, men have also been responsible for many of the good—even great—aspects of civilization, but this may be because they grant themselves more influence and opportunity in this regard. “Life on this planet isn’t threatened by women’s tears; nor does that brimming salty fluid cause poverty, drain public coffers, ruin reputations, impose forced intimacies, slay children, torture helpless people, or reduce cities to rubble. These disasters are literally man-made.” Indeed, if we were to magically do away with male-initiated violence, we would pretty much do away with violence altogether. (Of 80 mass killings in the U.S. involving guns between 1984 and 2014, men perpetrated 78.)

There have been plenty of books about feminism and books about the evolutionary biology, but this one combines the two. “Contrary to all received wisdom,” writes Konner, “women are more logical and less emotional than men...."

But I do not know whether they will be taking over soon enough to save us.


April 7, 2015


I am still digging around in the detritus of having moved 2000 miles across country. Now that I am ensconced in what I shall henceforth call my shedquarters, with a view of Ethne's new garden out the window, I am almost sorted out, but not quite. Yesterday I discovered bits and pieces in my bedside table-drawer that needed relocation. And I have pawed through a huge pile of clippings and rubbish that the movers scooped off my desk in Pennsylvania last October, and which I haven't looked at since. Among other things, it is evident that if I want to make a little improvement or update to my Encyclopedia I should do so immediately, rather than accumulating the clippings; but nobody is paying me to do that, so what the hell...

In the pile of stuff I discovered three issues of the Times Literary Supplement, which had ended up there because they had given me ideas for blog entries which were never carried out. Writing in this space is another thing I should do when I think of something, rather than letting it go; but more seriously, the older I get the more discouraged.

In an issue from January 17 2014, Stefan Collini was reviewing two books. The headline and strap were "For the common good: Despite differences of period and class, R.H. Tawney and Richard Hoggart shared a belief in the corrosive power of unchecked market forces." I had circled parts of certain paragraphs: a "share-owning democracy", ordinary citizens are besieged with injunctions to "safeguard your family's future" by placing bets in the global casino that is the stock market...focus was on how English society had allowed the unchecked pursuit of individual profit to become the overriding social goal...

And there was much more. Tawney was born in India, a product of Empire, became an economic historian and died in 1962; Hoggart was born into the working class in Leeds in 1918, became a cultural and literary critic, and died in 2014. What they had in common, Collini writes, was an "affirmation of certain deep, powerful truths".

Profit is a hollow and unworthy goal. The unchecked imperatives of the market deform and destroy human lives. The only force capable of resisting the destructive power of capital is the collective will to give expression to a common good through legal means -- or in other words, the state [...] they both recognised the obligation to "do" politics, to engage in public life, to work through institutions. 

Tawney could have written more history, and Hoggart more criticism, but they felt it their civic duty to chair committees and run institutions. It was a long book review and deeply moving, but I don't remember what I was going to combine it with a year ago, what point I was going to try to make. And now a year later I wonder if here is any hope for any sort of idealism.

Capitalism is all we have. It has created a world in which I can send out these words which will likely live forever, even if not many read them; and in which I can share beautiful music with like-minded friends all over the world every day. But we also see men who have grown unbelievably rich raping the environment and building casinos and who are buying politicians by the bagful, and both parties being suffocated by lobbyists in Washington, so that our boom-and-bust cycles will continue while the nation's moral and physical infrastructures fester.

And as for foreign policy, forget it; Eisenhower deposed the legitimate democratically elected leaders in other countries; Nixon committed treason by secretly interfering with the Johnson administration's negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris, so that the extraordinarily decent Hubert Humphrey lost that election and the war went on until a few thousand more young Americans had died for nothing. Reagan committed treason by secretly interfering in the Carter administration's negotiations with Iran over the embassy hostages, empowering the student radicals who had trashed international law and who are still in power there today, primitive misogynistic grownups who now want to become a nuclear power. And today's Republican Congress has committed treason by trying to interfere with Obama's negotiations in Iran. And while we can at least be grateful that Obama hasn't started any wars, he does not inspire confidence on the international front, going too far in the other direction by doing very little while Rome burns. 

All of which is my latest excuse for not writing here very often. Why bother? 


April 7, 2015

Long Live Lady

On Billie Holiday's 100th birthday, I'm listening tonight to Lady and Lester Young: 'This Year's Kisses', 'Mean To Me', 'Back In My Own Back Yard', 'I'll Never Be The Same' -- imperishable masterpieces from almost 80 years ago. She was just a kid, but knew what to do with a song, and Prez was the other half of her. May she live forever.

The unsigned note on the Columbia Legacy CD I'm listening to refers to "pianist-arranger Teddy WIlson, who served as leader on many of Holiday's record dates". They were not her dates; they were his. But never mind; the records were made quickly and cheaply for jukeboxes, and nobody dreamed they would still be selling in the next century.


March 31, 2015

We are all sinking into premature senility

Dogs wanted to be fed early this morning, and the newspaper wasn't here yet, so I caught up on some of the Times Literary Supplement. I adore the TLS; I read about fiction, history books, science books, biography, music and the other arts, and so on. Philosophy, not so much. My eyes glase over.
      In the February 27 issue (I am several weeks behind in my reading) there is a review of a book about mentalism versus animalism, that is, whether we are fundamentally psychological beings, and only incidentally humans, or most fundamentally a human animal and only accidentally a psychological being. Aren't we lucky to be higher animals, capable of squabbling about nothing? Talk about your big-enders and your little-enders: Jonathan Swift, thou shouldst be alive at this hour.

Then there's the new law in Indiana, simliar to laws in 19 other states, ostensibly about religious freedom, except that only Indiana's law explicitly enables discrimination against gays or anybody else a merchant doesn't approve of. Odd that in a nation founded on the principal of religious freedom we are using religion as an excuse to curb our freedoms; never mind, too many of our laws are unnecessary and even foolish. But when I go to Facebook to check on what my grandchildren are up to, I have to click through 50 or 60 posts from complete strangers about the Indiana law! So I go to the mothership and try to tighten up my privacy settings. I have enough friends.

And finally, tonight we watch the evening news. At five on PBS there's the BBC World News, then later the PBS NewsHour. On the BBC World News a considerable segment was taken up with a young woman plugging her self-help book about the importance of good habits. And on the PBS NewsHour there was an item about a journalist wrapping a gizmo around his head and getting an electronic jolt that (he said) had the effect of caffeine without the coffee. (What do they have against coffee?)
      Is public television going the way of network news? Are we all regressing into further retreat from the real world?


March 25, 2015

How to park, part one

How to park, part one

Patching up a 60-year-old house has meant a few trips to Ikea, which is always a busy place. Here is how one guy parked his boxcar.


March 24, 2015

An observation

It seems to be the case that the late Lee Kuan Yew, who was the enlightened authoritarian founding father of Singapore, suppressed freedom of the press as well as chewing gum, but allowed economic freedom. The same was true of South Korea, where Syngman Rhee and his like were essentially fascist dictators, who allowed their people to become more and more prosperous until they were able to purchase their political freedom.
      There is a reverse image in our mirror. Here in the USA we have been so prosperous for so long that we can now afford to sell our political freedom.


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