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.

«Nov 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:


May 14, 2015

In the furtherance of getting my eyes examined

We looked up Kaiser Permanente's website to find out if any eye doctors in Colorado Springs accept their insurance. The only thing I could find was a Dr. Shreck at a Kaiser Permanente building, so I called an 800 number and talked to a computer for a few minutes. When the computer wanted me to go find my wallet and get out my Kaiser Permanente card, I laughed and hung up. I found what appeared to be a local number for appointments, but a recorded voice wanted me to leave a message, which I did; nobody ever called back, but we had some errands to run anyway, so meanwhile we drove to the building, at the other end of town, 15 or 20 miles away.

There is a great long list of doctors' names on display in the lobby, but none of those doctors are theirs; although Kaiser Permanente's name is on the building, they only lease part of it. When we found Kaiser, they was nobody there. We wandered through the empty offices until we found Administration, where a very nice woman was having lunch at her desk, and asked if she could help us. Sure enough, everybody was out to lunch; she told us that she was sure we would like Dr Shreck, and that he and his assistant would be back soon. I asked her if she got paid extra for taking care of business while everybody else was at lunch; she laughed and said no, and in fact she was responsible for two other locations as well, including Pueblo, which is 40 or 50 miles away.

We went away and had a sandwich, and came back to make appointments. Ethne needs to have a checkup too because she had cataract surgery a year ago, and Dr Shreck can do that. Everyone we eventually met was very nice. Everything is different in the West, and everything is different when you get old, but I suspect everything will be just fine when we learn to jump through all the hoops.

There was a final surreal touch. The next day I got a telephone call from a computer wanting me to take a survey about my customer satisfaction. The first question was, did I remember talking to a Kaiser Permanente representative on the phone? I said no. The next question was, did I want to call back when I remembered...? I laughed and hung up before the machine could say "Your call is important to us..."

UPDATE: it is now June 15th, and it has been at least eight months since I started trying to get new glasses in Colorado Springs. Kaiser Permanente's lab broke my favorite frames, which I cannot replace because they've been discontinued. The glasses I am wearing now are the prescription before last, about ten years old. I'm discovering I that can drive without any glasses at all.


May 14, 2015

More on regulations

There was a column in the Wall Street Journal this week about how tough graduates are going to have it in 2015, which was mostly an excuse to bash the usual suspects, such as the teachers' union. But one paragraph caught my eye:

If you live in Florida, Nevada, Louisiana or the District of Columbia and want to be an interior designer, good luck: It will take six years of experience (and paying an average of $364 in fees) before you can get a license. Even becoming an emergency medical technician is easier: You need to take an average of 33 days' training and pass two exams.

Presumably you have to have a license to be an emergency medical technician, while you can probably help Grandma choose a color for her living room walls without a license, but then you will not be a licensed interior designer. But the basic point holds: the number of vocations requiring or offering certificates or licenses has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and why should an interior designer be licensed at all?

And that reminded me of the front page of last weekend's Review section. It galls me to have to agree with Charles Murray about anything; he was the co-author of a nasty book called The Bell Curve in 1996, which purported to show that Jews and Asians have higher IQs than I do, and that African-Americans are not as smart as I am. The bell curve was a sort of graph of IQ tests with minuscule differences in it, easily explained by the fact that the families of Asian kids demand that they do well in school, while black kids are far more subject to peer pressure and don't want to "act white", and all of course without admitting that the "Intelligence Quotient" might not be best measured by a micrometer.

[My poor brother loved the bell curve nonsense. I wrote to him that I would give ten points off my IQ to be able to play the piano like Fats Waller, but he didn't get it, and wrote back telling me what Fats Waller would be doing if he were alive today, racist nonsense which I can't repeat in a family blog, and which anyway was comparing yesterday to today, nothing about anybody's IQ. But my brother was an increasingly unhappy man, a fact which I cannot blame on Charles Murray.]

But Murray's piece in last weekend's WSJ was an excerpt from his latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission:

We now live under a presumption of constraint. Put aside all the ways in which city and state governments require us to march to their drummers and consider just the federal government. The number of federal crimes you could commit as of 2007 (the last year they were tallied) was about 4,450, a 50% increase just since 1980. A comparative handful of those crimes are "malum in se" -- bad in themselves. The rest are "malum prohibitum" -- crimes because the government disapproves.

In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations was over 175,000 pages. A huge number of these regulations, maybe a majority, are "stupid, pointless or tyrannical", often preventing people from doing their jobs according to their own judgement. The vast majority are not spelled out in legislation; regulatory agencies are allowed by Congress to make them up, and when you run afoul of these regs, the said agencies are the judges and the juries, and there is no appeal. Many of them "could be written only by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands, such as ones that mandate a certain sort of latch for a bakery's flour bins, or the proper way to describe flower bulbs to customers".

I am reminded of something I read in England many years ago. Suppose your wife makes really good jam, and everybody raves about it at the church bazaar, so you decide to market it to grocery stores and on the Internet. It would take a team of lawyers weeks to tell you what is required in the printing of the label that goes on the jar, just for a start. This is because England is a country that dates its laws, its unwritten constitution, back to 1066, almost a thousand years, and there are laws on the books that have never been repealed and which are forgotten and not obeyed because they are irrelevant.

And sure enough, Murray's solution to the problem of over-zealous regulations is civil disobedience. Ignore them. 

the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has authority over more than eight million workplaces. But it can call upon only one inspector for about every 3,700 of these workplaces. The Environmental Protection Agency has authority over not just workplaces but over every piece of property in the nation. It conducted about 18,000 investigations in 2013 -- a tiny number in proportion to its mandate.

In other words, points out Murray, the regulatory agencies are like the Wizard of Oz, the voice booming when it is directed at you or me, but when the curtain is swept aside, revealed as impotent. There's more: he proposes insurance against the regulatory agencies ("People don't build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance") and a legal foundation, and occupational defense funds. 

Governments, local, state and federal, are going to make libertarians of us all. 


May 9, 2015

Colorado is more England than England

If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes...

Is this the end of the world? Is the weather as screwy everywhere else as it is in Colorado? It's been raining for ten days or so now; wish I could send some of it to California. I worked four hours this morning at B&N, came home and took a nap while the sun was shining (I should have taken the opportunity to do a little yard work), and when I awoke it was raining yet again, harder than ever, complete with hailstones. And hearing the thunder I remember that at 6000 feet I am closer to the gods playing bowls!


May 8, 2015

More music in the Springs

Went to the Mezzanine last night, a remarkable venue downtown; it costs only $10 to get in, and whatever you spend there goes to benefit the local Conservatory of Music. Last night was a CD release party: Angelina Gadeliya was playing her new album, Schnittke and his Ghosts. I had never heard any solo piano music by the late Soviet composer before, nor Webern's Op. 27 Variations for Piano. She also played an adagio by Mozart and a Skryabin sonata. She's a wonderful musician, and a lot of my friends were there; plus Angelina's husband had laid on a table full of eats, and there were some families there with children, so a good time was had by all. 

And along the way there was a real surprise for me. There was a question and answer session, and she was interesting on the subject of recording, and that the editing process is harder work than the recording: you might have half a dozen takes of a phrase for the producer to choose from (and that reminds me of a Klemperer story, for another time). I asked her about the fact that on her CD it says "Volume 8": what's on the other seven? It turns out to be a series called Music of Tribute, which includes everything from Haydn to, er, Schnittke, played by half a dozen different pianists. And she mentioned the name of Heiner Stadler.

I buttonholed her later -- a delightful person to talk to -- and sure enough, her producer, and the label boss at Labor Records, is the same pianist, arranger and composer who released several legendary albums of "free jazz" back in the late 1960s and '70s. I've got a couple of them on the old Tomato label (recommended to me by Max Harrison) but I never knew anything more about Stadler. Labor Records issues everything from Louisiana Red to Eric Salzman's The Nude Paper Sermon. The label's website has a sort of strap line:

n. physical or mental exertion; work; toil; a task; the birth process.
v. to exert oneself; to take pains; to work at; to till; to cultivate.

Stadler has a Facebook page, a Wikipedia entry... This calls for a new entry in the Encyclopedia.

You just never know what you're going to run into in Colorado Springs.


May 5, 2015

View from the back yard

View from the back yard

We've had two old trees taken out and others pruned, and our view of Pikes Peak has improved.


May 5, 2015

View from the driveway

View from the driveway

Here's the moon over Colorado Springs, after our first salon: a perfect end to a perfect day.


May 5, 2015

A good point

The WSJ today has a review by Edward Rothstein of the current exhibit, "Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species", at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. There's a frog that can be frozen solid in the ice, and survive; there are creatures with green blood, and with transparent blood; and creatures which can survive in any temperatures from just over absolute zero to 300 degrees fahrenheit; and much more.

And Rothstein writes, "wonder should be central". Yes. Forget liberal and conservative, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, and wonder at the astonishing ingenuity of nature and the eternal mystery of the Universe we live in.


May 5, 2015

Good news from Nessa Records

Press release from Nessa: 
Around the first of this year we learned Roscoe Mitchell would be playing a concert in celebration of our good friend Fred Anderson. Sensing this might be something special and using my close relationship with Roscoe, we asked him if I could have the event recorded (on our dime). He agreed and we have decided to issue the concert on cd:
nessa ncd-37: Roscoe Mitchell Quartet Celebrating Fred Anderson

1. Song for Fred Anderson 17:24
2. Bernice 10.40
3. The Velvet Lounge 6:43
4. Hey Fred 17:05
5. Ladies in Love 13:46
6. Cermak Road 4:27

Roscoe Mitchell, saxophones
Tomeka Reid, cello
Junius Paul, bass
Vincent Davis, drums

March 27, 2015 at Constellation, Chicago
Recorded by David Zuchowski
Bernice and Ladies in Love composed by Fred Anderson; all others composed by Roscoe Mitchell

I remember Fred, and the Velvet. What a magical place.


April 30, 2015

Getting old 1

I've got a Colorado driver's license. They made me take my glasses off for the picture -- they don't even do that for a passport photo -- and I look like I've got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. 

I went to a dermatologist and he told me that my skin doesn't like the sun, and prescribed a tube of ointment. (I paid $10 for it because I have insurance; the retail price is supposed to be $300. Smells like a scam to me.) So I've been putting this stuff on my old map twice a day for ten days and now I look like an extra from The Living Dead.      

I'm telling everybody that I saw an ad in the back of a comic book that said "Look 30 years younger in two weeks!"


April 30, 2015

Getting old 2

As soon as we signed up for Medicare last December we found out why you have to have supplemental insurance when Ethne went to get her prescriptions filled: Walgreen's wanted several hundred bucks. Johnny Sobott in Denver told me that he and Dottie had been with Kaiser Permanente for years and liked it, but meanwhile we'd signed up with Humana. They immediately told me that I would be penalised $10 a month for some reason; I talked to them on the phone and didn't like the response I was getting, so we switched ro Kaiser after all. Then it turned out that the problem is with Medicare, not the supplemental insurance. There's some bureaucrat somewhere who can't read.

When we went to the Social Security Administration's office in Colorado Springs on December 12, Ethne started taking her social security and we both enrolled in Medicare. We brought with us a document for each of us from each of four different employers (a total of eight documents) proving that we had both had "creditable coverage" since long before either of us was eligible for any bennies, and the Social Security office saw no problem. (Some of the dopes who work in departments of human resources at the various employers don't know what they're doing, so acquiring this set of documents required quite a bit of correspondence and a few phone calls.) So why is Medicare telling Humana and now Kaiser that I did not have "creditable coverage"? And since we've both had exactly the same coverage since 1998, why should I be penalised and not Ethne? The correspondence continues.

Meanwhile, a week or two before the medical coverage from Ethne's last employer ran out at the end of January, she found a lady doctor she liked. So I tried to go to her in February, and they would not accept me because I was on Medicare. I could probably go to Ethne's doctor now that we have supplemental insurance, but I wouldn't want to. I've got hooked up with Peak Vista, who have made an industry out of looking after poor people and old poops like me. The waiting room looks like Doctors Without Borders, my nurse practitioner, Janey Switzer, is a jolly gal who knows her stuff, and I'm very happy. I had no trouble getting a referral to a dermatologist (I wanted to go to one in Pennsylvania but I would have had to wait months, so I gave up in disgust), and I've had my blood tested two years after my surgery, and my PSA is still zero. So I'm in good shape for an old fella.


April 30, 2015


Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) is perhaps most famous because Tom Lehrer wrote a song about her, though she was something of a New York celebrity in the early 1960s, appearing at least twice on the Jack Paar show. She was the lover and/or wife of some of the century's greatest artists, including composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, painter and playwright Oscar Kokoschka, architect Walter Gropius, and novelist and playwright Franz Werfel.

Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler, by Oliver Hilmes, will be published in English in a week or so. It was a best-seller in Germany, the first biography of her, using a trove of previously unpublished material, and promises to give us a life and times, putting her in her context of fin de siècle Vienna. She has always been controversial: was she an egoist, a harlot, a groupie, an unreliable memoirist? Was she both malevolent and a muse? All these men certainly loved her.

Werfel's best-known novel was The Song Of Bernadette, because it was made into a movie, but his most important work is The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel based on the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks in 1915, republished in English a couple of years ago. Alma refused to marry him for some years, but meanwhile she encouraged and helped him in his career; she travelled with him when he was researching that book, and she helped him to become a successful playwright as well as a novelist. 

Sooo...What about Alma? She was beautiful and sexy, or so the men thought; she was bright, and she was an artist. She was a composer until Mahler told her to stop, saying that there was only room for one composer in the family. And I am reading Melvin Konner's Women After All, which I wrote about here recently, in which the professor of anthropology postulates that in all the ways that matter, women are superior to men, and that male supremacy is coming to an end. He writes in his introduction,

But--another objection goes--men have accomplished great things! Much more so than women have! I also recognize that, although given that men have blocked women's paths to greatness in all fields for thousands of years, it is scarcely a fair comparison.

Yes, we need a good book about Alma. I'm looking forward to it.


April 30, 2015

Music in the Springs

Our social and musical life has improved immensely in our new surroundings. On Sunday afternoon ten days ago I attended a concert by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, conducted by its music director Josep Caballé-Domenich. The guest soloist was Johannes Moser on the cello, and my companion was Carlton Gamer, Emeritus Professor of Music at Colorado College. Ethne was out of town, which was a shame because she adores the cello; Elaine Freed, Carlton's special friend, author of excellent books about natural preservation, was also away.

The first half of the program consisted of the slow movement from Tchaikovsky's first string quartet, the famous Andante cantabile, arranged for cello and string orchestra, and his Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra. They were played very well, very smoothly; parts of the Rococo Variations are light-hearted, and Moser used some body language with a straight face which the audience found amusing. At the interval, Carlton told me why he thought Moser really was very good: not only is his cello a fine instrument, but he gets a beautiful tone from it on every part of his bow, from one end to the other, and his pianissimos were special: very soft yet you could hear them in the back row. I could tell he was good, but it was nice to have someone so knowledgeable to tell me why I liked it.

After the interval came Brahms' first symphony, one of my favorite pieces since I was a kid. I had been looking forward to hearing it live since we arrived here in October, when I first saw the orchestra's schedule. I own at least 20 different recordings of the piece. Unfortunately, in the event on Sunday afternoon I was disappointed. The music was jerked around like taffy, transitional passages quietened and slowed so that the conductor could make a splash when the big noise came back.

Carlton was too diplomatic to say whether he agreed with me, but he adores Brahms; we went to Shuga's for a bite to eat after the concert, and he talked about how good Brahms is at his transitional passages: when he wants to bring back an idea, he can sneak it in any number of ways, so that even if you are half waiting for it, you don't know where it's going to come from. Exactly why the symphonies should not be played like carnival music, it seems to me. There had been a tremolo passage in the violins in the first movement that I could not hear very well, because the hall is designed to be a multi-purpose hall, not particularly good for anything, whereas, we agreed, Orchestra Hall in Chicago is perfect for a symphony ortchestra, but no good for chamber music. Anyway, it was a splendid afternoon of musical fellowship.

Then night after last we went to Packard Hall to hear Colorado College's Grace Smith at the piano with the excellent Bion Tsang (from UT Austin) on cello. We sat almost in the front row, and Carlton and Elaine were right behind us. Bion Tsang led off with a Bach cello suite (BWV 1009); then they played a Boccherini sonata, a delightful set by Manuel de Falla called Suite Populaire Espagnole, and, after the interval, Beethoven's cello sonata Op. 69. 'Estrellita', by the Mexican composer Manuel Maria Ponce, was a lovely encore. Ethne was beside herself with pleasure at the cello playing practically in our laps; we were fascinated by Tsang's left hand: I would rather be able to do that than climb the highest mountain.

And tonight we go to hear a potpourri of fandangos and klezmer at the Mezzanine, a venue where you can eat and drink; there will be clarinettists, and Ofer Ben-Amots, who succeeded Carlton as chairman of the music department, will play piano. And on Sunday afternoon May 3 there will be a program of dance music (de Falla, Kodaly and I don't know what all) by the Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Springs, followed by a sort of open house in Drakestone Drive, our first. The good times are here at last, not before time.


April 30, 2015

Our new abode

Our new abode

Landscaping has begun at our mid-century moderne in Colorado Springs (prounded mow-dairne, I guess). There's a stack of firewood on the lawn that I have to saw up.


April 27, 2015

Be careful not to arrest anybody we've ever heard of

We had a friend who was a day trader for a while. We actually invested $1000 with him. He promptly lost it. He is still a friend, but no longer a day trader.

Another day trader, however, a certain Mavinder Sarao in suburban London, was very much better at it. He has made a lot of money over many years, because he can trade "very very fast". He bought and sold mostly futures contracts, and sometimes bought big orders which he immediately canceled, which some call "spoofing". He wrote in an email to Britain's Financial Conduct Authority:

What makes me change my mind? Well it could be anything, a move in one of the other markets that I look at, a chart set up that I suddenly remembered from my 11 years of trading, or simply the WAY [my order] was filled made me doubt my position, or for the large part it is just my INTUITION.

Now he is charged by the American authorities with contributing to the "flash crash" in  2010, when a trillion dollars of value was erased from the markets before they bounced back almost immediately. He was arrested a few days ago and was in jail pending bail of $7.5 million. The "flash crash" in fact was caused not by any trader or traders but by too much reliance on technology by the markets, which suddenly could not cope. Sarao's lawyer said that he would fight extradition to the USA.

Was anything Sarao did illegal when he did it? He was very, very good at what he was doing, at home alone at his computer, as opposed to rapid-fire trading from high-frequency companies with rooms full of technology, which he thinks ought to be banned. Meanwhile the Wall Street and big bank bigshots who caused the economy to collapse back in 2008 are still walking around collecting their bonuses, in no danger whatever of being arrested.

UPDATE: The news on April 30 is that Sarao is still in jail, unable to raise $7.5 million for bail. For day trading.


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.


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