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 2017»

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 25, 2016

Goodish news

So Roger Ailes has left Fox News. That's the best news we've had since Antonin Scalia dropped dead.

I learned everything I needed to know about Fox News shortly after coming back to the USA after 25 years in England. I went to work for Barnes & Noble in 1998, and a customer asked me for a book by Bill O'Reilly. I fetched the book for him, and the author's name was vaguely familiar, so I asked,"Who's Bill O'Reilly, then? A talking head on TV?" "Yeah, he's got a kind of political talk show on Fox..."

After the customer left, I went to the shelf to look at the book myself, because I thought the title, The No Spin Zone, was a clever one. I opened the book at random, started reading a couple of paragraphs, and burst out laughing. It was nothing but spin!


July 22, 2016

Teaching English?

Chieh Huang, an Internet enterprenuer, once briefly taught English in Japan. Many years later, talking with a Japanese CEO of a gaming company, she asked him where he had lived. The Wall Street Journal quotes him: "I was like, oh it was countryside. She was like, no try me. I was like, Niigata. Her eyes lit up. She was like, I grew up there."
        I hope he did not infect Japanese children with that ugly, ignorant use of the word "like".


May 23, 2016

At Mahlerfest XXIX, Boulder Colorado, May 22 2016

At Mahlerfest XXIX, Boulder Colorado, May 22 2016Three composers and me: left to right, Ofer Ben-Amots, of Colorado College in Colorado Springs; in front of him, the charming Christa and her husband, Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik; in the red shirt the guy who can't even read music; and Seattle's John David Lamb.


April 10, 2016

Back to the drawing board

For a year or so I've been expressing myself by using Facebook as a sort of twitter, keeping each item short because of the arbitrarily inconvenient Facebook format. But now I have lost my own Commonplace book, as well as tens of thousands of other files, thanks to a clumsy know-it-all who erased a hard disc, so I may as well post a blog now and then, even if nobody sees it.

William Gass, in his new collection of essays, Life Sentence: Literary Judgements and Acccounts, reflects on his own novel, The Tunnel, in which the protagonist excavates the Holocaust. Then Gass draws back with this:

I have taught philosophy in one or another of its many modes, for fifty years -- Plato my honey in every one of them -- yet many of those years had to pass before I began to realize that evil actually was ignorance -- ignorance chosen and cultivated -- as he and Socrates had so passionately taught; that most beliefs were bunkum, and that the removal of bad belief was as important to a mind as a cancer's excision was to the body it imperiled.

Just thought I'd toss that into the wilderness.


November 15, 2015

Still learning to use Facebook

I have now made my Facebook page "public" so the link below will work for a billions of people. Duhhh...


July 29, 2015

Hiatus here

As far as I know, not many people look at this blog, and I don't get around to writing much here anyway, so I am going to write whatever I want to write on my Facebook timeline. As irritating as Facebook can be, it is where I keep track of friends and family, so they will see whatever I write. Any other interested parties should go to Happy landings!


July 24, 2015

"It's MY couch."

"It's MY couch."

(I can do cute animals as well as anyone.)


July 21, 2015

Attention must be paid

On this day in 1969 I was stuck in a motel in Oconomowoc, where my car had broken down. I thought there was something wrong with the TV: fuzzy picture, sound like a taxi radio. All of a sudden I realized guys were walking on the moon.


July 20, 2015

My rant for the day

Received today in an email from a dear friend:

It is a slow day in a little Greek Village.
      The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.
      On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the village, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner that he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one room in which to spend the night. The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has gone upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.
      The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to pay his debt to the pig farmer.
      The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.
      The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his  drinks bill at the taverna.
      The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him her services on credit.
      The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note.
      The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich German will not suspect anything. At that moment the German comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, says the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money and leaves town.
      No one produced anything -- no one earned anything -- but the whole village is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism. And that, folks, is how the Greek government hopes to fix its economic problems.


A cute story, and I sympathize with everybody in it. There are a number of curious aspects.

First of all, this is how the world works: money itself is worthless, good only for the commerce it makes possible. (Gold was always worthless: you can’t eat it or wear it or burn it to keep warm.)

Secondly, there is the great god Growth, that everybody wants; nobody ever asks, How can every country achieve growth at the same time? Doesn’t it always have to be at somebody else’s expense? In order to have growth, somebody has to buy our junk. At the mall I sell scented pencils made in China, probably toxic if a kid chews on them, and a lot of other junk in what used to be a bookstore. This is progress? This is growth? Capitalism seems to be all we’ve got, but it has a dark side.

Thirdly, how come the Germans have so much money? Partly because they have unions. In a capitalist country, which is the only kind that works as far as we know, you have a tripartite economy, like a three-legged table: the stock market and the big banks and corporations to run the economy, labor unions and other pressure groups to protect the masses, and the government to keep an eye on it all, adjudicating when necessary. In this country we have kicked one leg away, and the table has fallen over; in Germany the unions are an integral part of the nation.


July 19, 2015

It's the kitchen's turn

It's the kitchen's turn

New floor, rearranging the cabinets... I can't tell you how proud I am of my son. Okay, he was inspired as a toddler by watching me put up a shelf or whatever, but he's gone screaming past any ability I ever had as a handyman. There's nothing he can't do. Once upon a time he handed me a tool; now I'm the one who does the fetching.


July 19, 2015

A blast from the past, in Colorado Springs

A blast from the past, in Colorado SpringsOnce upon a time there were 1800 Tastee-Freez outlets in the USA; now there are fewer than 50 original locations. And there's one in Colorado Springs, spelled Tasty-Freeze. Dunno what that's about; maybe some of the original franchises have gone independent. But this one has great burgers, terrific fries, chocolate malts... miles better than McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's. We're going back soon.


July 10, 2015

Every day, a hundred small insults

Today in my spam file there's an email with the subject line "Hey, You Won a $50.00 Sams Club Gift Card". (We go to Costco, but we have nothing to do with Sams Club.) Then I am asked to take part in a 30-second survey for a chance to win a $50.00 gift card.

How many morons help them with their marketing on the strength of a false statement? Quite a number, no doubt.


July 9, 2015

Nat and Gus in New York

I’m reading the autobiography Nathaniel Shilkret: SIxty Years in the Music Business, published by Scarecrow Press. Shilkret (1889-1981) was a multi-talented man who was music director at Victor Records in the 1920s. He was so full ot stories that he was pursuaded to start writing them down; it isn’t really a very good book, published in 2005, edited (sort of) by his daughter and his grandson, with no dates and some clunky writing, but it sure is full of stories. Shilkret was playing the clarinet in public when he was about seven; at 19 or 20 he was playing for Gustav Mahler.

The following winter I played with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. First, Safanov, the great Russian piano teacher was conductor, and he brought quite a few young musicians into the staid German-controlled orchestra. After Safanov came the famous conductor and composer Gustav Mahler. It was a great experience for me at such a young age to be part of an orchestra with such remarkable musicians. Unfortunately Mahler was a very sick man and did not stay long with us.
Then there’s a good story about a performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra under Safanov in which several musicians’ music stands got knocked over and the end of the piece was a shambles. “The next morning I bought all the newspapers, and, believe it or not, we received rave notices for our performance.”
Mahler, like some other conductors, doubled the woodwind players to compensate for the Beethoven scores in the loud parts because the modern orchestra used so many string players.
     Mahler was brought from the Metropolitan Opera House, and when he consented to accept the New York Philharmonic he insisted on hiring the great horn player Reuter [from the Met]. Reuter, taking advantage of Mahler’s request, demanded what was for then an extravagant price: $300 a week, and he got it.
     The reason for Mahler’s insistence on Reuter was the difficulty of the horn parts in Wagner’s music. Mahler was recognized as the outstanding Wagnerian conductor. He was a strict disciplinarian, and at times could be almost sadistic.
     There was a very fine old gentleman in our bass secion who had been instrumental in doing a good deal to help the Philharmonic Orchestra. He was greatly respected by the other musicians and the sponsors.
     We were rehearsing the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, and there are some difficult bass passages in the score. As we came to a bass passage Mahler seemed displeased and remarked, 'Let me hear each bass player play the passage alone.’
     For a bass player to play a long passage alone in front of a hundred musicians on such a clumsy instrument is very trying and a nervous experience. A young bass player will have the nerve to try, but for an old man who practically never has to perform as a soloist this could be a very excruciating and humiliating experience.
     Mahler was not to be denied; nearly every 20 minutes he would stop the orchestra, turn to the old man (Levy), and ask him, ‘Are you still too nervous to play?’ This went on all through rehearsal. The next morning Mahler walked in and, instead of rehearsing the orchestra, turned to the old bass player and said (in German), “Now that you have had all night to get over your nervousness and have had your rest, play the passage now.” The poor bass player, who had practically never performed as a soloist, grew pale and then picked up his bass and walked out of the room. The rest of the men felt terrible, but in those days conductors were Czars, and there was no arguing or reasoning with them.
That’s the end of the Mahler content. After Mahler left the Philharmonic Society, the board did not renew the horn player Reuter’s contract; he was too expensive and the next conductor (not named) “was not a Wagnerian specialist." The Met wouldn’t have Reuter back either, so he went freelance and toured with Walter Damrosch, as did Shilkret.

Shilkret says that contrary to popular legend, Paul Whiteman was a good conductor. But at the second (electric) recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1927, Shilkret conducted Paul Whiteman’s band because Gershwin and Whiteman were squabbling about tempi, according to Ryan Paul Bañagale’s book “Arranging Gershwin”. I hope that story is in the Shilkret book, which I am enjoying. It’s almost like hearing the old man telling his stories with an after-dinner glass of something.


July 9, 2015

Gizmo designers are all ESN

Apple's new music app, or interface, or whatever it is, offers the user 30 million songs, but that doesn't impress me. (Where is Tex Beneke's "Lavender Coffin"?) Anyway I am sure it would drive me nuts. Joanna Stern reviewed it in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, and all my suspicions are confirmed.

The iPhone and iPad app, organized into five tabs, is so crammed with items, lists and menus that it's hard to find things initially, harder still to remember where they are later. Seriously, it's like Russian nesting dolls: menus within menus within menus!
      Worse, things you'd assume would be simple aren't. It's what I call the "Am I an idiot?" interface problem. I couldn't figure out how to jump to Elton John's artist page when "Your Song" popped up in a great suggested playlist.
      Turns out, I wasn't the idiot. Instead of just tapping the artist's name (which brings up a star rating option), you have to tap the three-dot menu button (as opposed to the three-line menu button) and then the song name (but not "Show in iTunes", which takes you to a completely different app!). Even when I had mastered that, I often landed on a broken "unknown artist" screen. That's why they call it the blues, indeed."

And there's a lot more, but you can always get help from Siri the robot, if you use "specific strings of words."

Too bad Siri can't help you navigate iTunes on a Mac or PC. Apple's bloated 14-year-old media manager needed more features like CVS needs another toothpaste shelf. The already sluggish and hard-to-navigate software is made worse by the addition of Apple Music...

The people who design this stuff have no idea and apparently couldn't care less how their clients are going to want to use it. Everytime they update iTunes they screw something up, probably because they're the sort of people who think they need spellcheck. Yet Stern thinks that, like the original iPod, this new gimmick will wipe out Spotify and the others, because it is so intuitive at telling her what she likes. But I'm lucky; I have 65 recordings of Schubert's "Great" C Major symphony. What do I need with 30 million pop songs? 


July 5, 2015

No paper this weekend

There's no weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal this week (no book review section, to which I look forward all week), because the 4th of July happened to fall on a Saturday. How un-American of them on our national birthday, to have turned down all that advertising.


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