Donald's Blog

  This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.

«Sep 2014»

In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever, and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc. to:


July 8, 2014

Catching up

Yesterday I had a rant from an old friend about what he reads in the papers:

Some people become very upset if the issue of stupidity is adduced in discussion of human misfortune and suffering. While I acknowledge that life deals out a lot of wacky, random, inexplicable, undeserved and just plain nasty experiences, I find that about 85 per cent of what I read in the newspaper involves stupidity in one form or another, including almost all of the crime news, virtually 100 per cent of the auto accidents, at least 60% of politics, about 75% of most of what is reported as business and financial news and close to 100% of the celebrity coverage. About international affairs/diplomacy I would not even hazard a guess.  

I agree with him absolutely, which is probably why I do not blog every day. What is the point? Why bother? Some children in Syria were shot at for painting graffiti on walls; locals objected, and Bashar could have solved the problem very easily with some generous local diplomacy. Instead he enabled a civil war which has costs tens of thousands of lives and destabilized the whole Middle East. He's a doctor for heaven's sake, and he couldn't pour water out of a boot if it had the instructions on the heel. 

After several wonderful years at Rodale in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, as editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine, winning awards from the industry every year for her work, Ethne has been bounced. As she says, it was a "business decision", full stop. The upside is that we don't have to live in Pennsylvania any longer, which has nuisance taxes, silly alcohol laws, a legislature which is even more expensive than that of California, where there are three times as many people, and where our favorite supermarket doesn't even know what a doughnut is. (They call them friedcakes, and make them with sour cream.) So we are off to Kansas City for a week, where we have lots of friends, to have a look around. We are Midwesterners, and I guess we just can't stay away, since we can't afford California. 

Meanwhile I am still beavering away at loading up my computer with music so I can get rid of some CDs and a lot of vinyl (there will be less stuff to move). In the last week I have filled up a playlist with the work of Robert Parker, an Australian who was one of the first back in the 1980s to use digital methods to clean up old 78s, then bestowing his own "digital stereo" effect. He had a BBC radio program and the Beeb put out quite a lot of his work on vinyl, CDs and cassettes. Some of it was exquisite: I think of Paul Whiteman's "San" (1928), which had little to do with Whiteman; the pianist and arranger was the wonderful Bill Challis, and the tentet included Bix Beiderbeck, Jimmy Dorsey and Frank Trumbauer. Then Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators, a Duke Ellington small group, recorded the delightful "Frolic Sam" in 1936: both of these came up sounding like they were recorded last week. 

But on a sampler CD, Parker introduced his own work with the classic duet "Weather Bird", by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines (1928). First he played a bit of an old 78, which sounded like an old 78; then he played his cleaned-up version, which sounded splendid, and then he played his stereoized version, laying on his electronic gimmick with a trowel: it was completely ruined with bags of echo. 

But I cherry-picked my Parker LPs, and saved the best one for last: a compilation called Kansas City. I hadn't looked at it for some time, and it was a big disappointment. For one thing, ten of the 18 tracks are by Bennie Moten's band, which would be fine, except that Moten is pretty easy to find. Then there was one track by Walter Page's Blue Devils, a classic tentet that contained the nucleus of what later became the Count Basie band; it only made two recordings: why couldn't Parker have given us both sides of the record? The legendary George E. Lee and his Orchestra made six sides in 1929; the pianist and arranger was the very talented Jesse Stone, who had a fascinating career, ending up 25 years later calling himself Charles Calhoun and writing stuff like "Shake Rattle And Roll" at Atlantic Records. But of George E. Lee we get only one track, "Passeo Strut", which is the same one we always get. There is no Julia Lee, George's sister, whose career of double-entendre R&B lasted until well into the 1950s; there's no Harlan Leonard and his Rockets, who recorded for RCA in 1940...

And worst of all, the whole thing is drenched in echo, making all the tracks sound like they were recorded from a distance in an empty hangar at a disused airport. Oh, well... If I become a late-night radio host in Kansas City I'll just have to search the rest of my collection.


June 27, 2014

Eli Wallach RIP

The great American actor Eli Wallach has died, aged 98. Some of the obits pointed out that he was already famous on Broadway before he made his first film. But nobody mentioned the fact that Wallach had been in the running for the part of Maggio in From Here To Eternity in 1953. Hollywood thought that Wallach's screen test was the best, but Frank Sinatra has his friends and his then-wife Ava Gardner rooting for him; he got the part and won an Oscar for it, and it was the beginning of the best comeback in show-business history. 

Wallach himself said, “In the theater, I’m the little man or the irritated man, the misunderstood man,” while in films, “I do seem to keep getting cast as the bad guys.” His real home was on the stage, but his most famous film role was as the bad in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, the famous spaghetti western, and he was also a baddie in The Magnificent Seven. Maggio was a sympathetic character who was beaten to death by a bully; Wallach's first film was Baby Doll, in 1956, a Tennessee Williams screenplay awash with sleaze.

If Wallach had got the part of Maggio, both his and Sinatra's careers might have been very different.


June 26, 2014

The Russian democracy

Tribune Newspapers reports: 

Russia's Federation Council, parliament's upper house, on Wednesday revoked its March ruling allowing President Putin to use the country's armed forces in neighboring Ukraine.
      The council's action came a day after Putin asked the legislative body for the change...
      Russia deployed thousands of troops in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula at the end of February, and the parliament decided to allow Putin to do so on March 1...

So the Russian parliament does whatever Putin tells it to do, and he doesn't even bother to get its permission to send Russian troops into another sovereign nation until after he's done it. Who does he think he's fooling, and do the members of parliament bother to show up for work, or do they just phone it in?


June 25, 2014

The ever-present State

I remember reading some years ago about a concert pianist who shipped an antique piano around with her. It was French, I think, the best part of 200 years old, and finally on one occasion when she was bringing it back into the USA, customs wanted to confiscate it and destroy it, because it had ivory keys. I don't know how that turned out.

Tomorrow, according to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will ban the sale, trade, import or export of anything made of ivory. All antiques, musical instruments, any objects made of or decorated with ivory, in public or private collections, collectively worth hundred of millions of dollars, will become worthless. Ethne has an ivory letter-opener which she acquired from an aunt in England, and which she brought to this country in 1998; if she gives it to a cousin or sells it at a flea market she will be breaking the law. Yesterday the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs was supposed to discuss this nonsense; we can hope against hope that they put the kibosh on it. 

But the sheer amount of unaccountable regulatory overreach in this country is reaching disastrous proportions. In today's paper, Nelson Obus has written an op-ed about the Securities and Exchange Commission trying to browbeat his Wynnefield Capital into settling a case of insider trading, which would have effectively admitted guilt; on May 30th a jury in a federal courtroom in Manhattan finally found him, his investment company and his co-defendants innocent of any wrongdoing. Wynnefield is small as such companies go, but it took 12 years and more than $12 million to get a government agency off their backs. 

It remains to be seen whether the entire country will seize up before Congress comes to its senses and starts doing its job. I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile, a great many of the tea-party people may be bird-brains, but I'm having more and more sympathy for them.


June 24, 2014

The Baffler No. 25

Maybe capitalism has finally reached the stage of self-parody, unblushingly celebrating a house-of-cards as its highest achievement.
          --Matt Roth about Amway (reprinted from 1997)


June 23, 2014


The Wall Street Journal's letters page is one of the best there is, even though I usually diagree with most of the writers. They are bright and they write well, and they are not afraid to address mistakes that have been made by their erstwhile heroes.

For example, it ought to be obvious to anyone that the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq has been a continuing disaster. But on 16 June the WSJ printed an op-ed ("Only America Can Prevent a Disaster in Iraq") by Bush/Cheney appointee Paul Bremer, who made one terrible blunder after another back then. His worst mistake was ordering the Iraqi army to stand down, throwing tens of thousands of angry armed men out of work, many if not most of them Sunnis. Now he thinks we should wade back into a swamp where a religious war, one correspondent points out, "has been going on in some form or another since 632 A.D." 

Of five letters, Tom McDonough of North Wales PA sums it up:

Mr. Bremer is the envoy who marginalized the Iraqi army and the Sunni minority, disregarding the counsel of experienced American military and Middle East experts, and laid the foundation for a dysfunctional Iraq. I think we should supply him with rifle, helmet and battle fatigues so he can personally re-engage in Iraq.

John Griffin of Alamo CA echoes this:

He rightfully criticizes the current Iraqi government for purging the its army of competent officers--but that's just what he did when he was running U.S. operations there himself.

Meanwhile, incredibly, on 18 June, the Journal printed an op-ed by Dick and Liz Cheney titled "The Collapsing Obama Doctrine", blaming the present administration for the tragedy that Bush/Cheney perpetrated, and which we will be paying for for the rest of the century. One of the six letters printed today expressed fear and blamed Obama; the other five pointed out that it was Bush who agreed to a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011; that it was Cheney who defended the decision in 1994 not to go on to Baghdad and depose Saddam in the first gulf war, because that would have led to the collapse of Iraq: and what have we got now? Several readers were amazed at the Cheneys' words, aimed at Obama, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many", pointing out that those "prescient words describe perfectly President Bush's decision to invade Iraq" eleven years ago. 

A few quotes from today's letters:

Apparently the Cheneys don't recall the assertions by Mr. Cheney's former boss, President Bush, who believed [or pretended to believe; we'll never know] that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Now there was a mistake that really affected a lot of people... I find it ironic that one of the main architects of the foreign-policy disaster that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq would be so eager to give advice on the current situation there... Mr Cheney and his neocon friends...are directly responsible for the destabilization not just of Iraq, but the entire Middle East...If the Cheneys want to place blame for the fiasco Iraq has become, they need to look into the mirror.

The Journal ought to replace the editors of their opinion pages with some of their readers. Who knows, we might get rid of another architect of disaster, the oaf Karl Rove, who wastes space every Thursday. 


June 20, 2014

The Interview

Q: What is your greatest weakness?

A: Honesty.

Q: I don't think honesty is a weakness.

A: I don't give a shit what you think.


June 20, 2014

Saints preserve us

When I was a kid there was lead in paint; I played outside all day long during the summer and my parents never knew where I was; I rode my bike all over town without a skid lid...

In yesterday's paper, a woman had stopped at a convenience store and somebody there called the cops because she had children in her car who were not strapped into kiddie seats. A few minutes later she was filling up at a gas station where the cops found her, and arrested her. 

The reason so many Americans hate the government and despise all politicians, and think they need guns to protect themselves, is that you cannot turn around in this country without breaking the law.


June 20, 2014

The iPhone kill switch

Also in the news, Apple's iPhone can now have a kill switch: if your phone is stolen it can be remotely disabled so that it will be useless to the thief.

They must have been experimenting with this for some years; I have an iPhone that killed itself. It stopped working, and the Apple store said they didn't know what was wrong with it and they couldn't fix it so I had to buy a new one. Everything seems to work on the old one except the telephone part, so I am trying to upload music to it so I use it as an iPod, but I'm having a lot of trouble. I bet it will be incompatible with today's iTunes.

UPDATE: I had to download a new operating system to the phone that doesn't work, and it failed the first time. It all took about half a day. Gob less Apple.


June 20, 2014

Jazz at the baseball stadium

Horace Silver, a founder member of the Jazz Messengers over 60 years ago, died the other day, aged 85. Organist Fred Costello has a steady gig playing at the local Rochester Red Wings games, which might be the last minor league franchise still to have live music in its stadium; a big Silver fan, he played a quote from "Sister Sadie" for the jazz fans in the crowd.

David Demsey, in the jazz department at William Paterson University of New Jersey, is a saxophonist who studied music in Rochester and played with Costello a time or two. David writes that Fred had a great sense of humor with his repertoire. On one occasion, when a player from the opposing team made a truly horrible error, Fred observed it with "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life", a Burton Lane ballad from a 1944 film that a lot of jazzmen have played.

"Nobody got it except the bunch of us there from Eastman," David wrote. But Horace would no doubt have enjoyed it too.


June 12, 2014

The highway fund

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a memo to members of the Budget Committee Wednesday that the consequences of a transportation funding bankruptcy would be catastrophic.

“A shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund would hurt workers who depend on jobs on highway construction and public transportation projects, and it would add to the uncertainty that states and local governments already feel in planning for future transportation projects,” Murray said.  

“Both Democrats and Republicans have put forward proposals to resolve a Highway Trust Fund crisis, including plans to use revenues from corporate and international tax reform, to address the shortfall,” she continued. “At this critical stage, with less than three months before a crisis, failing to act in Congress to shore up the Highway Trust Fund would be damaging for families, businesses, and the economy.”


This was a longish news item on the Internet. Nowhere is there any suggestion of raising the gasoline tax, which hasn't been raised in over 20 years.

You can't fix stupid.


June 12, 2014

Jascha Horenstein's Mahler 5th

Jascha Horenstein's Mahler 5th

Horenstein fans always regretted that he never recorded Mahler's 2nd or his 5th symphonies. There were at least broadcast performances of the 6th, 7th and 8th symphonies, and studio recordings of the others; there will probably never be a 2nd, the Resurrection symphony, because Horenstein conducted it only twice, once in Johannesburg and once in Trieste [not only once in Australia, as I had said earlier], and neither performance was broadcast as far as we know, and no recording is known to exist.

But finally, over 40 years after JH's death, no fewer than three of his broadcast performances of the Mahler 5th have come to light. It is arguably Mahler's best known and most "popular" symphony, because of the famous Adagietto movement, but also perhaps his most ambitious symphony up to that point.

There is one with the London Symphony Orchestra, which is locked up in the British national sound archive: they will let you listen to it on headphones if you can find it (the archive has moved last we knew). And there is one with the Göteborgs Symfoniker in Sweden: that venerable orchestra had been going through a rough patch when Horenstein was invited in to help bring it back up to the stature it deserved. The performance is a bit rough and the sound isn't very good. The best one was made at the Edinburgh Festival in Usher Hall in 1961 with the Berlin Philharmonic, but again the broadcast sound was pretty ropey. 

Now Andrew Rose at Pristine in France has done a superb restoration job on the Edinburgh performance, revealing its power and its excitement: it's become one of those broadcasts that sweeps you away, so that if there's a little distortion here and there you don't even notice. It's the second or third restoration I have heard, and by far the best.

Download it here:


June 10, 2014


For years I thought that President Clinton had said that his favorite saxophonist was Peter Brötzmann, which I found very impressive. Now I find that it was a Russian called Igor Butman, who I had never heard of until now.

Maybe that's even more impressive. I do not know.


June 4, 2014

Words to live by

Don't face the facts or you'll never get out of bed in the morning.

--Ruth Gordon, actor and writer


June 2, 2014


I am reading a marvelous book called Nothin' But Blue Skies, by Edward McClelland, about the time and place where I grew up: the American Midwest, which astonished the world during WWII with its ability to crank out ships and tanks and bombers, and was the engine of American prosperity for many years thereafter. I worked the entire decade of the 1960s in a car factory in Wisconsin: I wore overalls, punched a timeclock, belonged to unions, but I had a mortgage and I drove a late-model car. I was joining the middle class. That is how it was done, and McClelland's book is about how the engine got started, and how it sputtered to a stop as the Midwest became the Rust Belt.

McClelland is a very good writer, perhaps the ideal chronicler of all this, because his sympathy is not in doubt, but nor does he pull any punches. He has interviewed a great many people and their personalities come through, but he calls both the workers and the bosses on their foolishnesses, and there are a few laugh-out-loud spots too. The varous chapters in his book are about Flint Michigan, East Chicago, Cleveland ("the Mistake on the Lake"), Homestead Pennsylvania, Decatur Illinois, and several other places where working people earned a living and raised families until it all started to unravel. I was never on strike in my whole ten years at American Motors, but there were plenty of strikes in the Midwest, and a lot of bitterness in the end, because it had all started more than a century ago with George Pullman and Andrew Carnegie and the other bosses treating the workers like children, and sometimes hiring goons to murder them if they got uppity, so naturally there were still chips on shoulders a few decades later. But I won't go on; read the book. It's about America, and how we allowed it to run down.

And in today's Wall Street Journal there's a special section on "Why U.S. Manufacturing Is Poised for a Comeback [Maybe]", written by James H. Hagerty, who describes a cause for optimism and a rebuttal in each of several areas. For me the key point was in the first rebuttal. "U.S. Costs Are Getting More Competitive" because wages are going up in other countries; for example, one study says that China's overall manufacturing-cost advantage has shrunk to 4%. Ah, but Euro-Pro Operating designs its Shark vacuum cleaners and Ninja blenders in the USA, but has them made in China.

The issue isn't labor costs [says Euro-Pro's CEO]. It's about the profusion of suppliers in China for such things as small motors and electronic parts, and the speed with which Chinese factories and suppliers can gear up to make new or redesigned products.
      Replicating those skills and supply chains in the U.S. is conceivable, but it would require many years of heavy investment. The big question is whether U.S. companies, which are typically focused on pleasing Wall Street with quarterly results, will make those long-term investments.

And there we have it. Wall Street runs the country through their satraps in Congress and various government departments; the quick and cheap profit is all that is wanted, and Main Street hasn't a chance. When I was working in a car factory, there were three or four machine shops within walking distance that could have turned out a tub of small parts in an emergency: Orrick Howard comes to mind; he lived across the street from us at one point, and raised a family of five boys operating his Kenosha Armature Works. But such shops no longer exist, any more than the big factory does, so if all you want to do is work for a living in exchange for a decent paycheck, you'll have to go somewhere else. The Arsenal of Democracy is closed.


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