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.

«May 2022»

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 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.


July 4, 2015

And another Fourth of July

Thirty-five years ago today, our pals Leonard Joseph and Sue Carter tied the knot, and had their wedding party in our back yard in Teddington. They had had their first date on the night our David was born, so there were already shared memories; we serenaded the neighbors with Sousa marches on the record player, and Leonard took charge of the fireworks. Tonight they are in Spain celebrating their anniversary, and our thoughts are with them.


July 4, 2015

Independence Day

Well, it was forty years ago today
The band at last began to play.

Forty years ago, on Friday, the 4th of July, 1975, I had been living in England for nearly two years. They had been tumultuous years for me. I will not go into any personal details unless some foolish publisher offers me a contract for an autobiography, but I had somehow escaped from the self-imposed limitations of flyover country.

The summer of 1974 had been dreadful in England, either so chilly I had to wear a jacket or so humid and close that I could hardly breathe, but suddenly in June of 1975 the weather had turned gloriously beautiful. My job in publishing (starting with "How It Works") is still the only real job I have ever had, except for the car factory. I belonged to the National Union of Journalists (another story), and in late June we went on strike, the only time I have ever been on strike in my life, because we were all broke and living on overdrafts while Marshall Cavendish was coining it: their excuse for not paying us more was the government's "social contract", which was a load of tosh. Inflation was raging and Prime Minister Harold Wislon (to use Private Eye's spelling) was a helpless hack.

So we picketed in Soho. ("It won't get better if you picket," we joked. It was a neighborhood where Japanese businessmen looked for hookers, and accosted some of our distaff colleagues: our gag line was "He's got a yen for you.") The strike was actually going well, the company beginning to move, until a cabal of the firm's crawlers took over a union meeting on a Friday and voted us back to work.

Some of us were disappointed, but we got together at our usual watering hole in Wardour Street on that 4th of July after work (the cabal conspicuous by their absence), and the acerbic barman made me laugh: "Today's the day we celebrate our independence from you." I was coming up to my 35th birthday, no longer a kid but not yet old, and I was alone, but free, it seemed, for the first time in my life.

In the pub I hoped to find someone I had met on the picket line, and she wasn't there, so I met someone else. I was still hoping to find a life partner, and it took another couple of years, but I found her.

That 4th of July was a special Independence Day.


July 3, 2015

I'm confused

At Musicweb, a CD review begins:

Carl LOEWE (1796-1869) Piano Music Vol. 1 - Linda Nicholson (pianoforte) rec. 2012 TOCCATA TOCC0278 [70:28] [JW] A splendidly realised project gets off to an ebullient start.

 How can a project just getting off to a start, er, already be realised?


June 30, 2015

"Marriage equality"

Initially I was not all that sanguine about gay marriage, because I thought that for thousands of years marriage was about blood, about ensuring that the next king would be legitimate, and why would people who will never make babies the old-fashioned way need to call it marriage? They should of course be able to have any sort of civil contract they want.

But that was too precious a view. The 50 states were never going to agree on a standard civil commitment (as I have been saying, we are not a nation but a loose federation of 50 squabbling little countries), and anyway the definition of marriage had changed a long time ago, with the shops full of pretty things where the bride could "register" and pick out her presents, to say nothing of Bridezilla herself, and a skyrocketing divorce rate leading to serial marriage. (And I ought to know about that).

And now there is the hypocricy and bullshit coming from those who disapprove of the Supreme Court's decision on the subject, like William McGurn in today's Wall Street Journal:

Welcome to Justice Kennedy's world. Where upholding the Kennedy definition of liberty--the right to define your own truth--turns out to mean denying that same right to millions of Americans who define marriage and truth in a way different from his.

Earlier in his rant, of course, McGurn mentions "free exercise of religion" and all of that. Nowhere however does McGurn or anybody else tell me how gay marriage could affect my personal religious belief (religion is about controlling yourself, not other people) or could devalue my marriage (that is, the one that has lasted 36 years so far).

McGurn thinks that 'the full furies have been released", that we will now have a new culture war on our hands. I think he is a toad. 


June 28, 2015

In the TLS

In the Times Literary Supplement for May 29 last, reviewing the Grove Dictionary of American Music (2nd edition, eight volumes for $1600), Stephen Brown laments that some of the entries don't contain "more humanizing, or at least particularizing, detail." He names several examples of the "gee whiz" factor that could have been included: composers William Thomas McKinley and Charles Ives were good pitchers, very attached to baseball; Adorno once wrote a "Tom Sawyer singspiel: Der Schatz des Indianer-Joe (genre: excrutiating)."  Then he writes:

On the other hand, the Billie Holiday entry, by Donald Clarke, is a model of brief biography. "Lady Sings the Blues (1956) was as gloomy and doom-laden as possible because it was written to sell to the movies, while her ghost-writer, William Dufty, described her as the funniest woman he had ever known."

Woot, and again I say, woot.

But the issue of May 29 was one of the best lately, and not just because I was in it. I haven't read any of Paul Beatty's stuff, but he has a new novel called The Sellout, and Bill Broun's review makes me want to read it. And there's some terrific history books. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the Civil War, by Don H. Doyle, is about what the rest of the world thought about the War Between The States, and the effect the northern victory had: "The grandest problems of politics are up for solution", wrote a French professor in 1861; at stake was a retreat of popular sovereignty, and a world-wide victory for slavery, monarchy and aristocracy. 

And speaking of aristocracy, Nick Bunker's An Empire On The Edge: How Britain came to fight America is about how our War of Independence happened. The leaders of the British government at the time were not dunderheads; they were honest, hard-working, well-educated men who did not understand the changing times they lived in. Men like Lord North were landed aristocrats who above all wanted to preserve the status quo, a system that had worked well for a long time, and in which everybody knew their place: they could not understand the behavior of these uppity Americans. And they did not understand the increasingly speculative nature of the world's economy. From T. H. Breen's review:

The East India Company eagerlty participated in practices that seemed to guarantee fabulous returns--for the stockholders, at least--and when the directors found that they could not cover their debts, they did what so many modern corporations have done in similar situations--they begged the government to bail them out. The plan to dump tons of unsold tea on the American market was a direct result of the East India Company's gross irresponsibility. The House of Commons accepted the rescue plan, even though some members of the opposition pointed out that the Americans would never accept tea that carried a tax that they deemed unconsitutional. North paid no attention, unable to see beyond the saving of the company.

A British officer who witnessed the subsequent party in Boston harbor wrote, "The East India Company's tea has made a fine dust. The people are in actual rebellion, and where it will end no one can say." 

A long, fascinating review by Henri Astier of four French books defines some of the problems faced by all advanced societies today. In Britain, in the USA and in France, chauvinist right-wing movements are always on the boil, because "At a time when the classes populaires are being regularly lectured about their racism, their isolationism, it transpires that the better off increasingly practise a form of isolationism they deny to humbler folk." Christophe Guilluy, in La France Périphérique, goes on: the ruling establishment has torn up the nation's social contract, proposing a "metropolitan model" that is "diametrically opposed to the Republican model" (in France, an ancient pact based on national unity). In Le Suicide français, Eric  Zemmour offers the utlimate "benign neglect" theory: the second-rate politicians, bankers who who surrender economic sovereignty, bosses who move jobs overseas and all the rest amount to a break from the people: "the secession of elites".

And what do we have in the USA? a handful of the very rich (Soros, Gates, Buffett) who understand that there is a problem, while the rest of the rich just want to sell the country, except for the Koch brothers, who want to buy it. And as for second-rate politicians, take a look at the Republican clown car. (Our Republicans are very different from the French.) One could wish that our elites would secede to a desert island and stay there.

The TLS is published in Britain, so I get it a little late, and I am always a couple of issues behind in reading it. Every issue has much to learn in it, but although I won't be reading any books in French, the issue of May 29 set some sort of record for making even longer the list of books I'd like to read. 


June 24, 2015

In the snooze nooze

The New York Times today says: "With a poll showing nonwhite voters strongly favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders’s capacity to win support among blacks represents a test of his campaign’s relevance." It does no such thing. Sanders would like to reform the nation's economy so that poorer people might have a better chance to get a bite of the cherry; lots of poorer people will not understand this and will vote against their own best interests, and not just minority voters. Even more will not vote at all.

On the obit page, the inventor of the pink plastic flamingo has died. I could not possibly comment.


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