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:


August 24, 2014


I have ranted in this space before about the pop divas who scream out their non-songs and never shut up, so that their so-called music never has a chance to breathe. I speak of Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and others of that ilk.

Now there is a new one: Barnes & Noble are currently playing a CD in their stores by a young woman who apparently doesn't have a name; she is known only as LP. She yells at the same volume almost all the way through almost every track. Her voice is not particularly attractive; she seems to yell in tune, but with today's technology we can have no idea whether she can actually sing or not. What we know is that she has no style or taste.

Listening to that in the store for a while, all I can think of is that if I had an animal in that kind of pain I would shoot it.


August 24, 2014

In Time magazine

This week there's an article about the state of the nuclear site in Japan that was destroyed by the tsunami of March 2011, which contains this:

You'd think, for example, that a nation ranking as one of the worlds's most seismically active would take heed when building a nuclear plant on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Yet [the Tokyo Electric Power Company's] disaster plan and post-accident coordination were woeful. It had ignored a joint government and utility-company study ... advisory ranks were weighed down with too many retired officials ...

I love that "for example". This is the central issue. Nuclear power would be the answer to a great many of our problems; plants can be built anywhere to be safe (though it will always be foolish to build one in a risky location); the problem of disposal of the waste materials is not even as bad as it used to be: with today's technology there is less of it, and a lot of it can be recycled. But a report commissioned by the Japanese Parliament said that "What must be admitted--very painfully--is that this was a disaster 'made in Japan'."  If the clever and pernickety Japanese can't do it properly, who can?

Perhaps we may as well turn the clock back 200 years, make our own soap and our own clothes and read at night by candlelight.


August 24, 2014

Also in TIme magazine

The very amusing Joel Stein writes in favor of the humanities, and points out that he was never going to be a physics major anyway. This line killed me: "This column, believe it or not, is the best use of my brain." I know exactly how he feels. This little bit of blogging I do now and then, the writing I have done in the past (still being read), my correspondence with a few friends, is all I have to offer. The rest is art. At the moment I am listening to a string quartet by Virgil Thomson, which deserves to be better know than it is; in the truck this week when I am running an errand, it's Michael Tippett's first two symphonies which are refreshing me ten minutes at a time. Without the humanities, sentient life would be intolerable.


August 22, 2014

Good. I have a choice

A CD review at

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) La Mer Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) La Valse; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Boléro; Daphnis et Chloé, Valses Nobles et sentimentales - Gunnar Idenstam (organ) rec. 2013 BIS SACD [73:46] [DC] Fancy Debussy’s symphonic sketches on organ?

Dominy Clements writes a fair and interesting review, but the answer is... No, thanks.


August 21, 2014

Go West, old man

Will the nations of the Middle East realize at last that they will get together or hang separately? The New Caliphate, hoping to turn the clock back a thousand years, is the biggest threat to all of them in their history. Will the thugs in eastern Ukraine and in Fergusen Missouri back off? I don't know and I don't know if I care. We are lucky: we are not being beheaded by psychotic morons. All the upheavals and new adventures in our lives have been first-world problems, the consequences of the incomprehensible behavior of the corporations we have been involved with (see below, Wiley August 13).

Now we have sold a house and bought another, all in one month; we have an expensive move halfway across the country ahead of us; we have to get rid of hundreds of books (if we haven't looked at it for ten years, we've got to stop shipping it around); we have to get rid of a lot of stuff. Ethne has been on top of it all like a Joan of Arc, and it finally got to her: she couldn't even get out of bed today, with all the symptoms of exhaustipation: fever, stomach ache, backache, the lot. Why does a new adventure always start with sharp stones in the shoes?

She'll be okay tomorrow and we will soon leave the East. Under the big sky and the low humidity of the high plain of Colorado Springs, no doubt everything will make more sense. 


August 13, 2014

Ah, memories

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


August 5, 2014

Well, it allows me to feel superior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 30, 2014

Pro-Arab or Anti-Semitic?

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


July 30, 2014

They befuddle me

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

Read more here.


July 29, 2014

Can we keep our eye on the ball, folks?

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

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

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

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

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


July 29, 2014

A laugh-out-loud moment

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

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

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

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


July 29, 2014

Teachers' unions

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

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

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

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

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


July 22, 2014

The criminal regime in Russia

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

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

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

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

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


July 19, 2014

Income inequality

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

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

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

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

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


July 19, 2014

The beasts who fired the missile

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

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

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


Next »      « Previous