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.

«Oct 2020»

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:


February 10, 2019

Ralph Northam should not resign.

I do not think that the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, should resign. The people who want him to do so are frightened politicians who are ignorant of the history of their own culture.

To begin with, blackface means minstrelsy. It is almost within living memory that minstrelsy was the most popular form of public entertainment in the USA, so popular that white performers blacked up to get a piece of the action. Al Jolson (1886-1950) was one of the biggest stars of the 20th century, famous for blacking up ('My Mammy', 'Swanee' etc). Two successful biopics were made: young Larry Parks played Jolson, who sang in the soundtracks of The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949), and Parks blacked up in both of them. (Teenagers bought Jolson's records, because they thought he looked like Parks.)

The career of Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) lasted until TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. She blacked up as a youngster, and remained a coon-shouter, though the term went out of fashion. The new pop songs of the late 19th-early 20th century evolved from minstrelsy and ragtime; they were called coon songs, and were an advance, because they were written in the vernacular that people actually spoke ('Some Of These Days', 'After You've Gone') as opposed to the polite parlor songs of the likes of Carrie Jacobs Bond. The black songwriter Ernest Hogan (1865-1909) came from minstrelsy to write 'All Coons Look Alike To Me', about a black girl who dumps her boyfriend for another guy with more money. Hogan may not have lived long enough to be embarrassed by his own biggest hit, but the word 'coon' wasn't offensive when he used it.

If you grew up in the modern world, especially in the South I should think, you deny or ignore your own past at your peril. By the 1980s blackface must have been a joke. The Ku Klux Klan was certainly not funny in the 1870s or in the 1920s, but did the the ridiculous costume have to be taken seriously by college kids in the 1980s? If Northam blacked up to imitate Michael Jackson, and others did it to imitate rappers, that was because they admired the music, just as their ancestors admired minstrelsy. And what about that page in Northam's college yearbook? (I have a yearbook, but it's not 'mine'; I share with a couple of hundred other kids.) Who produced and designed the yearbook? Who chose the pictures? How is any of this Northam's fault?

No, Northam should not resign. He has shown himself to be a man of the right sort, which is how he got elected in the first place. He should tough it out, telling the guardians of ignorance that they are the ones who are intoterant.


June 15, 2018

Stick a fork in me, I'm done

I can't post or comment or share any more about politics; I don't wish to remind myself that I am ashamed to be an American in today's world. All of my aunts and uncles and now my son have served in the armed forces so that a president could make us a laughing-stock, and rip babies from the arms of their mothers? Screw it. Who needs it.


May 29, 2018

The Times Literary Supplement

I've been reading the weekly Times Literary Supplement, founded in 1902, for nearly 50 years, turned onto it by my then father-in-law in Washington DC. I still remember the first issue that didn't have the table of contents on the cover, in 1974: instead it was an exploded drawing of a motorcycle, noting the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance. The weekly has been changing more lately, and now I see why.

The new editor for a couple of years has been Stig Abell, who has just been profiled in the New York Times. He was recruited from The Sun, the rather nasty tabloid that used to be famous for photos of big boobs on page 3. He was nominated for the new job by Rebekah Brooks, who had been the editor of the gossip tabloid News Of The World when it had to be closed after it had hacked the cellphone of a missing teenager who turned out to have been murdered. Brooks escaped going to jail when a jury believed her protestation of ignorance, and is now CEO of Rupert Murdoch's News UK. (Yes, Murdoch owns the TLS, but has pretty much left it alone, so far.)

Stig is a nickname from a children's novel. As the profile in the NYT pointed out, it would be difficult to imagine our Stig in tweeds. He is one of those youngish men who appears fashionable by pretending that he can't afford to buy a razor. I do not know whether he is covered with tattoos or wears a baseball cap backwards, but he has a double first in English from Oxford University. I suppose he can be best understood as a symbol of how everything is changing around us.

I used to read almost everything in the TLS; I often drew the line at philosophy, which can make my eyes glaze over. Nowadays I notice more reviews of books about pop music, er, I mean rock. In a recent issue the lead review covered three books about mothers and motherhood, right around the time of Mother's Day ("Mothering Sunday" in Britain). I confess that I only skimmed it. But I still find a lot to read in the paper, and, well, let's face it, of my favorites, Eric Korn is long gone, and Hugo Williams is almost as old as I am. (NB or J.C. on the back cover, whoever he is, is still as feisty as ever.) And Stig must be doing something right: it is still high-class as literary papers go, and to my surprise it is said to be the fastest-growing weekly in Britain. I guess I'll stick with it for now.


May 28, 2018

The tragedy of the chattering class

I can be a liberal, a conservative and a socialist, because unlike most people nowadays, I know the meanings of those words. One of the reasons I enjoy the Wall Street Journal is that the denizens of that precinct almost all imprison themselves in this or that ideology, which allows me to feel effortlessly superior. Mr. Barton Swaim seems to have joined the paper as a book reviewer specializing in politics, and consistently refuses to set himself free.

Joseph Epstein, for example, another scribe in the WSJ stable who can be an amusing writer, seems to think that our Social Security and Medicare will inevitable lead to Soviet-style communism, while Mr. Swaim recognizes the reality, in Scandinavian countries for example, of democratic socialism. Yet he disapproves of it, and never really tells us why. This holiday weekend he has reviewed two books about the election of 2016, as well as Bernie Sanders' own My Revolution. He writes that Bernie "holds democratic self-rule to be sacred and inviolable, but he's prepared to transfer enormous power to a coercive and impersonal government that cares little for the people's will." Presumably this is as opposed to a Wall Street that lies awake at night worrying about the welfare of the 98%. Mr. Swaim has already pointed out that those Scandinavian countries "recognize the need for a robust market economy" to pay for their welfare states, which leaves the implication that we would necessarily be incompetent in that regard.

Mr. Swaim goes on to quote Bernie on the lessons he learned growing up in the streets of Brooklyn: "Nobody supervised us. Nobody coached us. Nobody refereed our games. We were on our own. Everything was organized and determined by the kids themseves. The group worked out our disagreements, made all the decisions, and learned to live with them." Mr. Swaim does not say what is wrong with the obvious point that those boys have now been grown up for a long time – indeed, they have grandchildren – and they still want to make their own decisions. They would like to have guaranteed health care for all, like every other country in the western capitalist/democratic world, and for their grandchildren they would like to have affordable higher education, and jobs that pay something more than an insultingly low wage plus food stamps. And they would still like to learn to live with their decisions, if all the lobbyists and time-serving politicians would get out of the way.

Mr. Swaim goes on to say some interesting things about the books he is reviewing, and for example pays tribute to some "refreshing plainspokenness", but he also revives the myth of "Mrs. Clinton's deliberate use of a private email server to send classified information", an unproven assertion. We are left with the tragedy of a pundit who is determined to keep his head in a place where the light will never shine.


May 7, 2018

Plonk is as plonk does

Steve Mnuchin visits Jared Kushner "and takes along a $22 bottle of wine -- despite being worth $300 million", writes the Daily Mail. That's almost three times what I spend on lovely bottles of Bogle. Does the Mail think Mnuchin got rich by spending hundreds on a bottle of wine? Oh, and he "dresses down" for the visit. The Mail doesn't like jeans. But then I seem to recall that the Mail is written for the wives of the men who think they run the country.


May 6, 2018

Forward Ho

I was astonished by a childish rant from a surgeon on 27 March. Then I was astonished again when the Interventional Radiology people finally called after about six weeks. I'm having another surgery in a couple of days, and I'm feeling optimistic. The pain for weeks now has been bearable (with the help of Tramadol) and predictable, rather than constantly up and down--at one point in March I could not go to the bathroom ten feet away without crutches. If it's going to be third time lucky, I'll be able to stop taking the damned pills. Furthermore, I have started the two-year course of injecting myself every day to make my bones stronger, which will also accelerate the healing of the damaged vertebrae, and I'm getting the drug for free, thanks to Lilly Cares, and a different doctor, a grown-up this time. 


May 6, 2018

Louie: gone but not forgotten

Louie: gone but not forgotten

We acquired Louie when he was about six months old. He was effectively a rescue, because the people who owned him had no idea what they were doing; he had already sired a litter. Like most animals, he had a personality all his own; he had never been on a lead, never been for a walk, never ridden in a car, but he learned quickly. He tore Polly the Parrot to pieces, buried a moose somewhere, and never touched another stuffed toy. Never chased a ball, a frisbee or a stick, but went nuts over the red laser dot; when we lived in Allentown (2009-2014) he would chase it all over the house, and if I got tired of playing with the pen, he would leap at my hand: he knew that the red dot was coming from there!
      Last week his liver was collapsing, and he had to leave us. Ethne was away on business, and the wonderful kids at the Dublin Animal Hospital in Colorado Springs managed to make FaceTime work on my decrepit old iPhone so that she could see him and say goodbye from hundreds of miles away. We were both bawling. In a perfect Universe, he would be romping in the kennel in the sky with Hoover and Roscoe.


April 18, 2018

Don't click on anything in a strange email!

On 2 April I received an email from PayPal saying that someone called Michael Caruana had donated $660 to my website, which is absurd. That email disappeared before I could copy it. (How is an email disappeared from my inbox?) The same day another message from Paypal: a Keyanna Bulluck charged my account $980. I reported the scam to Paypal immediately, they took one day to investigate and decided that the charge was authorized. By whom? I have never heard of her, him or it, and never purchased anything online for that kind of money. Fortunately our bank is cooperating but we have already had to shell out for blocking the payment.

After nearly a week we finally got through to the right person at Paypal and the whole business got scrubbed. The jerk who thought a $980 claim was consistent with my history of transactions (hardly any over $25) hadn't even looked at it, hadn't followed his own training. As soon as we were talking to a grownup the problem was solved. Moral: don't click on links in emails!!

(The same week there were minor attempts on my wallet from Nigeria and Amsterdam. The bank and Apple were on the ball. Apparently if a scammer gets useful bits of your identity he sells it to all the other scammers. Had to cancel a credit card, change a bunch of passwords...)

Update: It happened again on 5 May. Same phony name (Michael Caruana), slightly different amount. This time I didn't click on "more information". (See, you can teach an old dog new tricks.) I forwarded the phony email to 


April 18, 2018

How can I forget our anniversary?

Three times now Ethne and I have forgot our own wedding anniversary. The first time was ten years or so ago; we were at a garden and crafts affair in north Chicago, and I saw something I wanted to buy for her, and tried to think of an occasion...and realized that our anniversary had just gone by. Much more recently, we were in Monterery; she was looking at gardens and interviewing an architect and I was pawing through second-hand classical vinyl in a shop on Lighthouse; I remembered what day it was and texted her HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! She texted back WE FORGOT AGAIN! And the third time was last Saturday, our 39th.

Okay, we've had a lot on our plates lately, and anyway I can understand why she would want to forget our anniversary, but how could I forget it? I love her so much, and I owe her everything... But then, as we always say, what's hers is hers, and what's mine is hers! 


April 17, 2018

George Washington Trumpet

A hundred years ago, give or take, a journalist took down the maunderings of George Washington Plunkett, a New York politician, in his office (actually a shoe-shine stand). The essence of what he said was, "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em." That irrepressible American attitude has finally taken him the to the White House.


April 17, 2018

Them bones them bones them dry bones

You do not have osteoporosis until you have had an "event". Since September 30th I have had five compression fractures of vertebrae. I definitely have osteoporosis. I will soon have a prescription for Forteo, and I will shoot myself with a teeny weeny needle every day for two years, which will build up my bones and help two fractures heal (I probably won't have any more surgery). It has taken several weeks to find out what my copay might be for Forteo; it's over $723 a month, which is out of the question. There is something called Tymlos, said to be a generic, BUT IT HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE FDA FOR MEN. This is almost enough to make me a wingnut. Get rid of the FDA. Let people buy snake oil from Canada.The next step in to apply to Lilly Cares, a charity set up by the gangsters who make the stuff.

The surgeon who repaired three of my fractures refuses to put me under any more; it is his professional duty to make that judgement. But he and his staff told me that they would refer me to IR people (Interventional Radiology) (for a second opinion, or just for advice? I do not know). They were supposed to call me; I have tried to call them, but they are protected by banks of telephone technology: when I tried to leave a message, all I got was their lousy music. That was weeks and weeks ago and I've never heard a thing. Obviously somebody somewhere has dropped the ball. The last time I saw the tiny, glib, bustling Dr. Little Kid, to try to find out what was going on, he insulted us with a line of childish, high-school Facebook-shaming horseshit about how we were complaining, criticising, disrespecting his staff yada yada. The last time I heard trash like that was from an ungrateful grandchild; I would not have expected it from a medical professional. "I didn't give you osteoporosis," he said, a non-sequitur if I ever heard one. No, Doctor, but since you mention it, I first met you six months ago, and now I am twenty years older.

I am 77 years old and for the moment my life is over. Ethne is going on a road trip soon, promoting her new book; she will see old friends in Kansas City and Des Moines, and I can't go, because I can't sit in an airplane seat for an hour or two, nor ride for hundreds of miles in a rented car. That's probably how I got screwed up in the first place.


April 17, 2018

And as long as I'm whining

While everything else has been going on, I have had cataract surgery. I haven't had a decent pair of glasses for years now; in particular that seems to be a problem in Colorado Springs, and I've been warned that I will have a cataract problem down the road, so I thought I'd get it over with. My long-distance vision wasn't that bad; I was amused on the rare occasion that I jumped in the car and drove away forgetting my glasses on that I could drive perfectly well without them. Now however my distance vision is 20-20: we have big windows and lovely trees in the yard and I can see every twig and bud.

But I used to be to read without glasses. Since I have been getting older I have been wearing reading glasses, but I could still read without them, in bed for example, especially if I held one hand over the worst eye. Now I am dreadfully nearsighted. For the rest of my life I will never be able to read anything without glasses, not even the label on a pill bottle. If I had known the trade-off was going to be that dramatic I would have stayed with the cataracts. I can only hope to end up with a useful pair of glasses.


March 22, 2018

At the mercy of a schmuck

It's a shame when a dope like Mark Zuckerberg accidentally changes the world, because he is going to have no idea what he is doing. As rich as the guy is, he can't even buy himself a proper shirt.

Addendum: a couple of weeks later he put on a suit and tie for Congress. I wonder if it's true that they didn't know who he was at first.


March 18, 2018

The last election

Last week the Wall Street Journal presented an important fact about the last election in two or three different places. Here's William A. Galston on March 14:

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won only 472 counties, but they represented fully 64% of GDP. Donald Trump's 2,584 counties accounted for only 36%.

Of course Hillary's been bragging about this, as she should, although of course the WSJ doesn't think so. And the converse is even more important: she won the most prosperous counties, but she lost the rest. When I was a kid there was a steel mill in Middletown, Ohio, which J.D Vance wrote about in last year's best-selling Hillbilly Elegy. South Bend, Indiana had Studebaker. There was a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, where Paul Ryan should be selling used cars. And in my home town of Kenosha there was a Simmons mattress factory, American Motors, Snap On, MacWhyte Wire Rope, American Brass and several more. All these factories provided tens of thousands of good jobs to people from all over the USA, who retired with good pensions. But those jobs are all gone, and the children and grandchildren of those workers can't find decent jobs. They should be the natural constituency of the Democratic party, but Hillary hardly visited the Midwest, and never set foot in Wisconsin. That's why my home town subscribed to Donald Trump's lies. 


March 10, 2018

A New Lees on Life

A habitué of this blog, if any there are, will have noticed some changes lately. I have restored two of my books to be read here, since they were not making much money as downloads, and I would rather have them here for free. And there are now well over 4000 entries in the Encyclopedia (I could be adding more entries every week if it were not for all the interruptions: two surgeries on my back in the last five months, among other things).

But the most dramatic change is no doubt the addition of Gene Lees' Jazzletter. This is more than 300 issues of the private publication of the long-time writer and editor who knew everybody, and was an expert at backing into the limelight. His reminiscences, anecdotes and interviews (and contributions from other writers) were looked forward to by subscribers from 1981 to 2008, but were lost when he passed away, except for those of us who had collected them. My partner in this crime has been Claude Neuman, a translator of poetry who lives in France and was also a friend of Gene's; you can find out more by clicking on "Gene Lee's Jazzletter", where there is a blurb, and a disclaimer: "We have been unable to make contact with Gene’s family, but should they wish to upload or publish the Jazzletter themselves, we would gladly pass the torch to them."

Hundreds of people have been notified of the resurrection of the Jazzletter, and I have also received a message from a Canadian gentleman who thought that my disclaimer was 'presumptuous' (is that a Canadian word?).

Well, copyright can be a problem. My wife and I have published 20 or more books between us, depending on how you count them, and every one of them contains a similar disclaimer: "We have tried to find the owner of [this or that photo or whatever]; if you will kindly let us know..." I know people who have had to sue people to get their own work back! I nursed an idea for a TV version of The RIse And Fall of Popular Music -- I even had a good time writing some scenes in my head -- until a successful producer of TV films told me that he commissions original music for his works because licensing music costs too much. I wonder how many worthwhile projects never see the light of day for that reason. I myself am ashamed of American copyright law, driven by corporate types on behalf of the Mickey Mouse estate.

It is of course all about money. I belong to a group that shares broadcasts and out-of-print records of classical music; nobody bothers us because classical music isn’t seen to be worth anything. And maybe my disclaimer about the Jazzletter is similar to that: there is no money here. Claude put up quite a sum to have the pages turned into pdfs; now that I am buying extra protection from GoDaddy against scammers, malware etc, it costs me several hundred a year just to keep the site up. In ten years the site hadn’t earned me a dime (the donate button is new this month.). People have been cribbing my stuff for over 30 years, and I don’t mind because that’s what it’s for. When Cab Calloway died, there was a mistake in an obit in a national British paper that came from my Encyclopedia entry!

There is some irony and some comedy here. Gene was sore at me when he died; he was sore at a lot of people from time to time. (I was also corresponding with Max Harrison; they were a pair of loveable cranks: they each warned me about the other.) We tried to get in touch with those relatives of Gene's that we knew about and nobody seemed to be interested. Gene is on record as worrying that after he died he would be forgotten; we are trying to prevent that, for a while at least. But if I get any threatening letters from lawyers I’ll just yank the Jazzletter and Claude can do what he likes with it.

Meanwhile, the chap in Canada says that there have been proposals to put the jazz magazine Coda online, which always founder because it changed hands three times. So they do nothing, and Coda remains in limbo.


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