Monday, February 22, 2010

The Berkeley Daily Planet

For about seven years, the O'Malleys have published a newspaper with this title. I don't think this was ever actually published every day, but for many years there were two issues a week, available free from a number of racks all around Berkeley and adjacent areas. When the proprietors began online publication, I would usually read at least one copy of the print version every week.

The paper has the unusual policy of printing almost any letter or article submitted, without editing or censorship. As you can imagine, our city is full of folk with an axe to grind, and I would hate to receive the punishment of being forced to read every word in the paper, particularly all the correspondence.

Some months ago, a writer from overseas apparently submitted an article which was considered "anti-Semitic" by some readers. This attracted the ire of some radical Zionists, who began a campaign to threaten advertisers that if they continued to help subsidize the Daily Planet by advertising in it, they would face a boycott by Jewish readers.

It is important to point out that most of the significant number of our residents who are "ethnically Jewish" deplored this Zionist tactic. Unfortunately, many of the advertisers yielded to these threats. The O'Malleys have suggested that they lost about 60% of their advertising revenue as a result, and had to lay off two staff reporters.

The paper used a bookkeeping service founded by a man named Bill Norgren. At one time, he worked for my old company, Dealey, Renton & Associates. We were friends of a sort, and he always made it clear that he looked up to me. I was supportive when he set up his own business, because he saw opportunities to serve small businesses. He was (and probably still is) married to a woman from the Philippines. With a small staff in Oakland, he would email data to that country, and his labor costs there were small. He seemed to have a sensible business plan, and I was glad that he was becoming successful.

Alas, it now appears that he was a crook. He would take from his customers (including the Daily Planet) the correct amount for payment of taxes, etc. However, he did not remit the full amount to the authorities, and they did not follow up promptly. Bill Norgren has apparently now moved to the Philippines, and would presumably face a prison sentence if he were to return to the United States.

This second blow has been crippling, and recently the newspaper announced that it would soon only be available online. We shall miss the print copies.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Last night, Barbara and I attended a concert by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra (BSO). This is not a full-time orchestra, but is made up of professional musicians - mostly teachers and freelance performers. The first part of the program consisted of two modern pieces, which I enjoyed more than I had expected. After the intermission, the orchestra played one of my favorite "old war-horses", the Eroica, Beethoven's Third Symphony. This brought back many memories.

The first time I heard a Beethoven symphony was in late 1952, in Geneva. I had obtained a leave of absence from a tolerant employer so that I could join my fiancée, who was in that city at the start of her career as an International Civil Servant. The orchestra was a local one, but internationally well-known from its many recordings: L' Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. I was deeply impressed by hearing a large orchestra play one of the composer's masterworks. This is a work I have often heard since, either live or from excellent modern recordings.

Neither of my parents had seemed particularly interested in music, of any kind. At my prep school, Port Regis, when I was about 12, Miss Heelas, the music mistress (teacher), offered "musical appreciation" to the older boys. We were privileged to sit in comfort in the headmaster's study for this, which mostly consisted of listening to 78 rpm records, of modest quality, in those days before anyone had ever heard of "Hi-Fi".

A few years later, I began to enjoy and collect recordings of Big Band music, especially Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. I enjoyed both Swing and Jazz, but I had little time for classical music.

There had been a boy at Port Regis, George Hurst, about a year older than I was. He was already an outstanding musician before his teens, and went on to a career in Canada and the UK, particularly as conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, which he founded. Soon after my return from Switzerland, I was promoted and appointed to an interesting job at the Home Office of the Royal / Globe Insurance Group in Liverpool. I rented a house on the Wirral Peninsula, across the Mersey from my job. One day, I learned that George Hurst was going to be conducting a concert given by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He was happy to meet me and enjoy some hospitality while working in a strange city. He influenced me as I began to learn to enjoy classical music.

For some time, I was the youngest department head at the Home Office, but my younger friend David Kimber soon arrived, at the start of his actuarial career, which later took him and his family to Australia. David introduced me to the music of Gustav Mahler, and he owned some quite good recordings (for those times) of all the symphonies. We haven't been in touch for many years, but I think he'd be quite surprised to know that my favorite music now is played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and that I even enjoy what would have seemed "boring" in my youth: chamber music (particularly Haydn) played by the New Esterhazy Quartet.

The BSO has a dynamic new conductor this season, Joana Carneiro - a fine successor to Kent Nagano, for many years a fixture with the orchestra. As the last notes of the coda to the 4th movement drew to a close, the Zellerbach Auditorium burst into rapturous applause. I am sure there were many young people in the audience hearing Eroica played live for the first time. As I joined in the well-deserved applause, I hoped that they would have as much enjoyment from the works of the Master as I have had.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Three small rants

Sometimes "authorities" start something and don't know when to stop, an example of this is the label that now appears on all containers of alcoholic beverages in this country. I have no quarrel with the warnings that were articulated many years ago by a former "surgeon general". One could perhaps argue that all subsequent Surgeons general share that opinion, but it still strikes me as dated.

Someone along the supply chain has to print all these labels, and arrange for them to be stuck on each container. For the most part, they are "preaching to the choir". I suppose, somewhere in the land, there is a person who first learns that a pregnant woman should avoid alcohol, and that it is dangerous to drive a car or operate machinery after drinking. That, of course, is information which, in the words you may find in Hamlet, a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance. I believe that there are more effective ways of reinforcing the wise advice about the dangers of drinking than sticking those silly labels on each and every bottle. In my experience, the drunks who drive cars are just as likely, if not more so, to swallow their booze from a glass found in a bar than in drinking from a bottle at home.

I still chuckle at the memory of the Surgeon-General who had some tailor make up a quasi-military uniform, thinking that he was the medical equivalent of an Army "General". Of course, that word is confusing, it has a sense that occurs in such phrases as General Convention or General Confession, both well understood by Episcopalians. The pope may create Vicars General. Shakespeare also can be brought into this, when he described something esoteric as being "caviar to the general", he was referring to the general population, whose tastes had not been educated to appreciate the subtleties of caviar.

I have never really understood why a Major is superior to a Lieutenant, but a Lieutenant General is superior to a Major General. The only explanation I have heard - that it is short for "Sargent Major General" - is totally unconvincing.

The third rant today is about transportation. Why do I still need to remove my shoes when going through security at an airport? Because some misguided young resident in the UK once tried to board a Transatlantic flight with explosive in his shoes in a notably unsuccessful attempt to cause the destruction of a plane, is no good reason to force us all to remove our shoes. Many million pairs of shoes - and the number must be approaching a million - have been removed, with explosives never found. I'm an old guy in my 80s, who always has to be sent to the "penalty box" when I pass through security, because the replacement in my right knee is of metal, and sets off the alarm. Yes, there probably still is a majority of folk who accept the minor inconvenience of a security check because they feel safer that everyone is required to pass a metal detector. If I were to suggest that the time is long past when folk of my age with an unblemished record should be given some sort of pass to avoid the delay and indignities, I know the response: "If we made exceptions, the terrorists would find an old man to act as a suicide bomber". Well, maybe...

The cynic in me says that there is no chance of reducing the huge number of TSA personnel when unemployment remains so high.

Monday, February 1, 2010


From the time I went off to boarding school at the age of 8, I cut my own toenails. In fact, I had two different implements with which to do this. No problem!

Sometime in my mid-70s, I had some reason to visit a podiatrist (which the Brits call a "chiropodist"). I was steered to an excellent one, whose name often appeared in the gossip column - not, I assure you, for any scandalous reason. Among his many clients, some of whose tributes were posted on the walls of his consulting room, were famous athletes. I had a mild case of ingrowing toenails, and on my occasional visits, he worked on the nails of my big toes with great dexterity. One of his assistants would clip the lesser toenails.

When I had increasing difficulty in cutting my own toenails, I suggested to Barbara that we take it in turns to cut each others toenails. She wasn't having any.

The best toenail clipper I ever came across is my podiatrist at Kaiser in Richmond, Dr. Ishii. I could see her a couple of times a year, and she would personally cut all my toenails.

Barbara enjoys acupuncture, and usually falls asleep during treatment. I have tried acupuncture, at Barbara's urging, and the slight pin prick was not really painful, but I don't think it did anything for me. In hectic days of my business life, I would occasionally drop off to sleep at the barbershop, but I have never done this while having my toenails trimmed. It was my late wonderful assistant, Sandra Stevens, who suggested that I should try a pedicure, if I just wanted my toenails clipped. There was an establishment fairly close to my office after I left Dealy, Renton & Associates. I noted that the proprietress and all her workers were Vietnamese. I still pay an annual visit to Dr. Ishii, but it means that someone needs to drive me there and back. Also, the co-payment is now $30, as opposed to $25 in previous years. (In defense of Kaiser, I should add that many health maintenance procedures now require no co-payment.)

I can't say that I really enjoy a pedicure, any more than I enjoy a visit to my excellent dental hygienist. However, my toenails continued to grow, albeit much more slowly than fingernails. I have twice been mildly berated by women giving me pedicures, telling me that I should come more often. Once every three months about does it. There are at least two nail stores on or near Solano avenue in Albany, and I patronize one of the them these days. The price is $17, to which I add perhaps $3 as a tip. Both local establishments are operated by Vietnamese, who certainly seem to have made a specialty of this in our part of Northern California.

I have been wondering who would offer manicures, pedicures, etc. before the Vietnamese began arriving. Was some other group driven out of business? Also, are there schools in Vietnam that offer training, or do the many women workers in these nail stores learn the trade in this country? I also wonder whether such establishments are largely in the hands of Vietnamese in other parts of the country, further from the Pacific ocean which divides us from the homeland of the skillful folk who take care of my toenails.