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 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:


June 16, 2015

Life in cyber alley

One of my music list colleagues has sent me to Shellackophile, which looks like a fun site, a collection of transfers of old classical 78rpm sets. When I try downloading I arrive at FileFactory, instantly get a funny-looking .dmg file which I could not open and warnings about a “Macfest” (?) that might be infected with a virus and which could be blocked but not deleted. Not too worried because I hadn't installed anything.

Then we tried Sendspace, which might be something like Dropbox, except that Dropbox works, easily and quickly and without any rigmarole. At Sendspace if I click where it says “click here to start download”, I get “503 service temporarily unavailable”. When I click on any of the other several download buttons (why are there several??) I have to register, which I ain’t gonna do. As I said yesterday, I'm through clicking on stuff and registering, logging in, joining and signing up. Don't need it.

The ignoramuses who design all this crap ought to be arrested for being in constraint of trade; they will choke the Internet to death before the FCC gets a chance to murder it.

I want to buy some music by Russian pianist Alexandre Pirojenko, but distribution of physical objects is collapsing, I’m not sending a credit card number to a Russian site, and my bank wants $55 for a wire transfer to Swedbank. Too bad!

Curmudgeons unite!


June 16, 2015

Free trade again.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens in his Global View column ("The New Liberal Know Nothings") and William McGurn in Main Street ("Nancy Pelosi's Democratic Double-Cross") both chide the Democrats in Congress who have stymied the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Stephens:

So opposed is Mrs. Pelosi's party to free trade -- that is, so beholden are Democrats to organized labor -- that the party was prepared to defy President Obama [...] to scuttle TPP.

Er, no, Stephens, I am not beholden to organized labor (though I am a union member and proud of it), nor am I opposed to free trade, which has given me a standard of living that could not have been imagined by my grandfather. I am however opposed to a profoundly important piece of legislation being concocted behind closed doors, and its concoctors demanding an up-and-down vote without debate on something that no one has seen.

To begin with, there is every reason to suspect that TPP would give far too much power to multinational corporations, who would then be able to jerk us all around even more than they do now. Secondly, there are those old bugbears, the rule of law and the sanctity of contract. I assume that a "Trans-Pacific" partnership will include China, a backward nation (like Russia, Iran, Saudi and others) which will sign an agreement and then find a way do as they damn please, the opposite of the attitude that has made Western civilization the most (materially) successful in the history of the world.

Why can't we see the bill? The likes of Stephens and McGurn disapprove of everything Obama does, but they want TPP handed to him on plate? Are they taking baksheesh? I think we should be told.


June 15, 2015

Notes from the Springs

What a week! On Thursday to Packard Hall during the Colorado College Summer Music Festival to hear a wind quintet by d'Indy, then a sonata for trumpet, horn and trombone by Poulenc, followed by Music for a Farce, a set of eight short jolly pieces by Paul Bowles, intended to accompany film clips by Orson Welles in a theatrical production that never happened: the quartet included the beautiful Susan Grace, music director of the Festival. This was the first Bowles I ever heard, light and amusing. After the interval came a thrilling rendition of Franck's piano quintet in F minor, with Orion Weiss, piano; Stephen Rose and Stefan Hersh, violins; Philip Ying, viola; David Ying, cello.
      All the artists are world class. Rose for example is principal second violin in the Cleveland Orchestra, while the Yings are of course half of the Ying Quartet, who I met at Mary Robbins' house in Austin at least a dozen years ago. Ethne could not take her eyes off David Ying; she adores the cello, and we were sitting so close we could almost touch the players.

And yesterday! Ethne has a job in a nursery selling plants, so we both worked in retail yesterday morning. Then another concert in the afternoon: a jolly Serenata in vano by Nielsen, for three winds and two strings; two short pieces for piano and bass trombone by Duard Lassen, who I had never heard of, and two more by Schumann for piano and oboe, all curious divertessments; the oboist was Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, a former Colorado College student who is now first oboe in the Atlanta Symphony. And then another thrilling exercise for strings, the octet in B-flat Major by Max Bruch. After the interval a Mozart piano quartet, which believe it or not was a let-down after the Bruch. And after all that, in the evening a house party with eight people including our David, enjoying the garden in twilight followed by smoked salmon and other goodies...

A Concert at Midday today which I am missing because Ethne has the car. Invited to dinner tonight by some new friends. An orchestral concert tomorrow evening will include a Serenade by Strauss, Bartok's Music for strings, percussion and celeste, and Brahms' first symphony (my second live Brahms' first this year will probably be more fun than the first one). No wonder I don't have any time to blog.


My email spam is creeping up, junk somehow getting past the highest bar Earthlink provides. (This morning it was "Compare hotel prices on 208 booking sites at once!") I conclude this is the result of looking at too many cute videos on Facebook, so I'm taking the pledge. I enjoy Facebook, but there are safer ways to waste time.


From today's Facebook I gather there is an article in the current Atlantic (or on its website) about political comedy, asking why we don't have any "conservative" comedians. The reason we enjoy "liberal" comedians and have no "conservative" ones at all is that our heroes are sending up the world we all live in, while so-called "conservatives" are pissing and moaning about a world in which no one ever lived, nor ever shall.
      I've told this story before. I came back to the USA in 1998 after many years overseas and went to work at Barnes & Noble, where a customer asked me for a book called The No-Spin Zone. I had hardly heard of Bill O'Reilly. I got the book for the customer, and then went to look at a copy of it myself, intrigued by the title; I opened it at random, read a couple of paragraphs, and laughed out loud. It was all spin.
      So okay, Bill O'Reilly is a comedian. But it doesn't count if you're not doing it on purpose.


June 5, 2015

This does not compute.

A letter writer in the Wall Street Journal today says that "Human life has just been cheapened in Nebraska." Because Nebraska has decided it's not going to execute people any more.


May 27, 2015

So it goes.

Unlike in the anodyne letters pages of other newspapers, the readers of the Wall Street Journal argue with each other and with the paper. I thought this exchange about the plight of African-American families was rather sad: first a woman writing about the past from Minnesota, then a man writing about today from New Jersey:

We can look back at our our American history [...] employment that didn't qualify for Social Security (agriculture and domestic service), federal policy that prevented African-American families from getting mortgages (including our black GIs) until the 1960s, and highway development that cut through thriving black neighborhoods.

Our poor black citizens indeed have a harder tiime than the rest of us, in part because [...] liberal welfare programs and enmity toward traditional morality [...] preference for teachers unions [...] because of the policies advocated by MIchelle Obama and pursued by her husband.

Pity we Americans. We can't win for losing.


May 26, 2015

Russia today

A Russian immigrant in New York once described his home country as "Nigeria with snow." I've just finished reading Peter Pomerantsev's book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible. Russia today is a zoo; maybe it always was. The fantasy-land of violence and corruption is scary and hard to believe...and maybe the West is coming to resemble it. 

I'm tempted to quote a long paragraph about the unbelievable corruption at the top of the greasy pole in Russia, but there are too many such paragraphs and it's too depressing. Russia has not yet recovered from the long Communist period, when it was necessary to believe ten impossible and contradictory things before breakfast. Take the book out of the library. 


May 22, 2015

MahlerFest XXVIII

Still coming down from last weekend's MahlerFest in Boulder. It was conductor Robert Olson's last, after 28 years; there were two performances of Mahler's 9th: Claudio Abbado said that the ending is supposed to sound like snow falling on snow, and Sunday afternoon I could not keep back my tears. Plus we got to hobnob with friends David and Mary Lamb, Mitch and Sue Friedfeld, Eric Sussman, Aaron Z. Snyder and others, all old chums from Jason Greshes's Mahler-list for lo these 20 years.

Having just moved to Colorado we had thought "Hot dog! Now we can go to the MahlerFest every year!" Then we were afraid that there wouldn't be any more Fests because founder Bob was retiring, but the search committee found the estimable Kenneth Woods. Maestro Woods is an American who lives in Wales, the conductor of a BBC orchestra there; he also leads the Orchestra of the Swan, which I guess he founded; and he plays chamber music (he's a cellist). He has conducted almost all the Mahler symphonies, and has recorded all the symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann, and much else. Furthermore, he is a thoughtful musician.

Joel Lazar told me a few years ago about a fairly famous conductor of the last generation, who he described as the most "incurious" conductor: having conducted a piece once, he never looks at the score again, until conducting it again. This is worse than a lack of curiosity. I have written here about the Pacifica Quartet's rendition of Beethoven's 11th string quartet, which I heard in a church on the south side of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a few years ago: in the last movement they did something so ethereal, so unexpectedly beautiful, that it lifted the whole thing onto another plane, without being unfaithful in the least to the score: they had clearly studied it and thought about it and found something special of their own in it. To judge from his very popular music blog, "View from the Podium", Woods is that kind of conductor.

There is a controversy over the order of the inner movements of Mahler's 6th symphony: it was published as scherzo-adagio, but then Mahler changed his mind, and apparently always played it adagio-scherzo. (Alma had stuck her oar in after Mahler's death, confusing things with a letter to the conductor Mengelberg.) Woods has decided on strictly musical grounds that it needs to be scherzo-adagio, that it makes more sense that way. He also thinks that the famous "train wreck" at the beginning of the 4th symphony should be played just as Mahler left it: that far from forgetting to put a ritard on the flutes and sleigh bells, he meant them to fade away into the forest like spooks (as it were), ignoring the strings as they enter. 

We Mahlerites are in for some endless discussion, which is what we like! Long live the MahlerFest!


May 16, 2015

Off to Boulder

We're off to the MahlerFest in Boulder to hear two performances of M9 and to see old friends. It might be the last MahlerFest, because the marvelous conductor, Robert Olson, is retiring after more than 20 years. This will be a sad and a happy weekend all at once!


May 16, 2015

Well, what do you know.

In the Times Literary Supplement (April 3), Peter Marshall is reviewing Austen Ivereigh's book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope:

It was at their meeting at Medellín, Colombia, in 1968 that the confederation of Latin American bishops (CELAM) famously announced a "preferential option for the poor", and gave legitimacy to the movement know as liberation theology, which identified sin as residing in oppressive structures as well as individual hearts, and which was subsequently suspected and suppressed under the pontificate of John Paul II for supposedly Marxist leanings. 

Aha! We know that corporations are people, because the U.S. Supreme Court says so, and therefore they must be capable of sin! What's Marxist about that?


May 15, 2015

Goodbye and Thanks, Blues Boy

In October of 1978 we were living in England, and Ethne had booked herself a vacation trip to the USA, so she gave me her tickets to a B.B. King concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. I've never stopped teasing her about it because it was absolute magic, one of the best gigs I ever saw in my life. And he could do that for 200 nights a year. There will never be another.

"Nobody loves me but my mother/ And she could be jivin' too."


May 15, 2015

A musical joke (or two)

A musical joke (or two)

"How do you get two oboists to play in tune?"
"Shoot one of them."

"What is a burning oboe good for?"
"Setting fire to a bassoon."

"How many oboe players does it take to change a light bulb?"
"Just one, but he has to try 20 different bulbs."


May 15, 2015

Schubert's 'heavenly' length

I'm listening to one of dozens of recordings I have of Schubert's "Great" C major symphony, by Franz Konwitschny and the Czech Philharmonic. It's one of the best ones, and I don't know anything about Konwitschny, except that the orchestra apparently called him "OneWhiskey". Glorious music-making, on the somewhat obscure old Urania label.


May 14, 2015

In the furtherance of getting my eyes examined

We looked up Kaiser Permanente's website to find out if any eye doctors in Colorado Springs accept their insurance. The only thing I could find was a Dr. Shreck at a Kaiser Permanente building, so I called an 800 number and talked to a computer for a few minutes. When the computer wanted me to go find my wallet and get out my Kaiser Permanente card, I laughed and hung up. I found what appeared to be a local number for appointments, but a recorded voice wanted me to leave a message, which I did; nobody ever called back, but we had some errands to run anyway, so meanwhile we drove to the building, at the other end of town, 15 or 20 miles away.

There is a great long list of doctors' names on display in the lobby, but none of those doctors are theirs; although Kaiser Permanente's name is on the building, they only lease part of it. When we found Kaiser, they was nobody there. We wandered through the empty offices until we found Administration, where a very nice woman was having lunch at her desk, and asked if she could help us. Sure enough, everybody was out to lunch; she told us that she was sure we would like Dr Shreck, and that he and his assistant would be back soon. I asked her if she got paid extra for taking care of business while everybody else was at lunch; she laughed and said no, and in fact she was responsible for two other locations as well, including Pueblo, which is 40 or 50 miles away.

We went away and had a sandwich, and came back to make appointments. Ethne needs to have a checkup too because she had cataract surgery a year ago, and Dr Shreck can do that. Everyone we eventually met was very nice. Everything is different in the West, and everything is different when you get old, but I suspect everything will be just fine when we learn to jump through all the hoops.

There was a final surreal touch. The next day I got a telephone call from a computer wanting me to take a survey about my customer satisfaction. The first question was, did I remember talking to a Kaiser Permanente representative on the phone? I said no. The next question was, did I want to call back when I remembered...? I laughed and hung up before the machine could say "Your call is important to us..."

UPDATE: it is now June 15th, and it has been at least eight months since I started trying to get new glasses in Colorado Springs. Kaiser Permanente's lab broke my favorite frames, which I cannot replace because they've been discontinued. The glasses I am wearing now are the prescription before last, about ten years old. I'm discovering I that can drive without any glasses at all.


May 14, 2015

More on regulations

There was a column in the Wall Street Journal this week about how tough graduates are going to have it in 2015, which was mostly an excuse to bash the usual suspects, such as the teachers' union. But one paragraph caught my eye:

If you live in Florida, Nevada, Louisiana or the District of Columbia and want to be an interior designer, good luck: It will take six years of experience (and paying an average of $364 in fees) before you can get a license. Even becoming an emergency medical technician is easier: You need to take an average of 33 days' training and pass two exams.

Presumably you have to have a license to be an emergency medical technician, while you can probably help Grandma choose a color for her living room walls without a license, but then you will not be a licensed interior designer. But the basic point holds: the number of vocations requiring or offering certificates or licenses has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and why should an interior designer be licensed at all?

And that reminded me of the front page of last weekend's Review section. It galls me to have to agree with Charles Murray about anything; he was the co-author of a nasty book called The Bell Curve in 1996, which purported to show that Jews and Asians have higher IQs than I do, and that African-Americans are not as smart as I am. The bell curve was a sort of graph of IQ tests with minuscule differences in it, easily explained by the fact that the families of Asian kids demand that they do well in school, while black kids are far more subject to peer pressure and don't want to "act white", and all of course without admitting that the "Intelligence Quotient" might not be best measured by a micrometer.

[My poor brother loved the bell curve nonsense. I wrote to him that I would give ten points off my IQ to be able to play the piano like Fats Waller, but he didn't get it, and wrote back telling me what Fats Waller would be doing if he were alive today, racist nonsense which I can't repeat in a family blog, and which anyway was comparing yesterday to today, nothing about anybody's IQ. But my brother was an increasingly unhappy man, a fact which I cannot blame on Charles Murray.]

But Murray's piece in last weekend's WSJ was an excerpt from his latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission:

We now live under a presumption of constraint. Put aside all the ways in which city and state governments require us to march to their drummers and consider just the federal government. The number of federal crimes you could commit as of 2007 (the last year they were tallied) was about 4,450, a 50% increase just since 1980. A comparative handful of those crimes are "malum in se" -- bad in themselves. The rest are "malum prohibitum" -- crimes because the government disapproves.

In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations was over 175,000 pages. A huge number of these regulations, maybe a majority, are "stupid, pointless or tyrannical", often preventing people from doing their jobs according to their own judgement. The vast majority are not spelled out in legislation; regulatory agencies are allowed by Congress to make them up, and when you run afoul of these regs, the said agencies are the judges and the juries, and there is no appeal. Many of them "could be written only by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands, such as ones that mandate a certain sort of latch for a bakery's flour bins, or the proper way to describe flower bulbs to customers".

I am reminded of something I read in England many years ago. Suppose your wife makes really good jam, and everybody raves about it at the church bazaar, so you decide to market it to grocery stores and on the Internet. It would take a team of lawyers weeks to tell you what is required in the printing of the label that goes on the jar, just for a start. This is because England is a country that dates its laws, its unwritten constitution, back to 1066, almost a thousand years, and there are laws on the books that have never been repealed and which are forgotten and not obeyed because they are irrelevant.

And sure enough, Murray's solution to the problem of over-zealous regulations is civil disobedience. Ignore them. 

the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has authority over more than eight million workplaces. But it can call upon only one inspector for about every 3,700 of these workplaces. The Environmental Protection Agency has authority over not just workplaces but over every piece of property in the nation. It conducted about 18,000 investigations in 2013 -- a tiny number in proportion to its mandate.

In other words, points out Murray, the regulatory agencies are like the Wizard of Oz, the voice booming when it is directed at you or me, but when the curtain is swept aside, revealed as impotent. There's more: he proposes insurance against the regulatory agencies ("People don't build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance") and a legal foundation, and occupational defense funds. 

Governments, local, state and federal, are going to make libertarians of us all. 


May 9, 2015

Colorado is more England than England

If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes...

Is this the end of the world? Is the weather as screwy everywhere else as it is in Colorado? It's been raining for ten days or so now; wish I could send some of it to California. I worked four hours this morning at B&N, came home and took a nap while the sun was shining (I should have taken the opportunity to do a little yard work), and when I awoke it was raining yet again, harder than ever, complete with hailstones. And hearing the thunder I remember that at 6000 feet I am closer to the gods playing bowls!


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