Saturday, October 1, 2022


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakov Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .

Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.

The book is also available at:


                                                          By Jim Szantor

    Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric 
    and whimsical observations 
    about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • I like to think of myself as couth, kempt and ept.
  • R.I.P., Queen Elizabeth II.  (Unfortunately, my wife and I couldn’t attend the funeral, so we sent our regrets. It seemed like the right thing to do.)
  • Her Royal Highness was, by all accounts, a great monarch. (And I really hated losing a faithful blog follower, but whaddya gonna do?)
  • Believe it or not, I did have the pleasure and honor of exchanging texts with King Charles, which I will take the liberty of sharing:
  • Me:  Your Majesty, you know the great American comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks famously said, “It’s good to be king.”  Is it?
  • King Charles:  Well, Jim, so far, so good . . . but, you know, small sample size LOL
  • It’s uncanny, but whenever people point during a conversation (“The hardware store over there . . . ), they almost always point in the wrong direction.  
  • Milwaukee is a great choice for the 2024 GOP convention.  For one thing, the sound of constant gunfire, squealing tires and wailing sirens will keep delegates from nodding off during the boring campaign speeches. 
  • Beehive of activity: I understand Donald Trump was adding on to his Mar-a-Lago estate while all the document searching was going on:  Another tennis court, another putting green and--oh, yes--a holding cell.
  • I suspect that Trump really wouldn’t mind going to prison--as long as they name it after him!
  • I haven’t read or heard a word about this yet (“this” being Time magazine’s annual Person of the Year award), but my pick would be Liz Cheney.  You read it here first.
  • It turns out that Haagen-Dazs is actually the Norwegian term for “pudgy thighs.” (Who knew?)
  • There are two types of people in Office America:  Those who display photos of their children and those who don’t (even if they have children).
  • Anybody who still says “jeepers” probably has a three-digit Social Security Number.
  • Speaking of old folks, it’s high time to start an Endangered Names List:  We’re running out of Clarences and Waldos, and we would do well to treasure our remaining Wandas and Gertrudes. Time is running out.
  • Quiz time:  Which is the only city with world championships in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS? (Answer later in this column.)
  • Sometimes politicians just can’t win—no pun intended.  If they change their position on an issue, not so much for political expediency but because of changing conditions or conscientious study or soul-searching, they’re branded as “flip-floppers.”
  • But if they stick to a position and never waver, they’re “rigid” or “ideologues.” If that’s not enough, pols of all stripes have their statements “taken out of context”—either by opponents/detractors or some media outlets.  (Allegedly.)  You have to have a strong stomach and a thick skin to run for any meaningful office.  (Or a screw loose!)
  • The problem with politics is that the parts that really hurt us--the backroom deals, the lobbying, the arm-twisting, the payoffs--those we never get to see. All we get are the speeches, the photo-ops and the campaign commercials. C-SPAN notwithstanding, we never really get to see the sausage being made. (Do we have the stomach for it?)
  • More politics: We all know the credo of the so-called compassionate conservative, don’t we?  “I feel your pain; I’m just not going to do anything about it.”
  • Does anyone remember where they were when Saddam Hussein was executed?  Me neither.
  • Redundancy Patrol:  At this point in time, component parts, hazardous toxins.
  • Our cat used to get one piece of mail addressed to him each year--a reminder from the veterinarian for his annual checkup.  But that’s it.  Apparently, pets have built-in immunity to the junk mail plague.  (They get fleas, but no unwanted credit-card offers, charity appeals or schlocky catalogs--and they probably couldn’t care less about privacy notices. Good trade-off?)
  • Three of my restaurant ideas that never got off the ground:  Jim’s House of Hummus, Jim’s Casa Kielbasa and Jim’s Big Screen/Smart TV Dinners.  (Still on my drawing board: Hamburger Schlemmer.)
  • What’s the difference between an epoch and an era?
  • I wonder how often a car dealer has actually given someone “triple the difference in cash” if they found a better deal somewhere else?
  • Anyone who can make any sense out of the dialogue in the “Flo from Progressive” commercials, raise your hand.  (Flo, your plane is boarding.)
  • Speaking of dialogue, one reason I never get hooked on “Law and Order” is that every time someone says something, it’s very scripted-sounding--a snappy, super-succinct, clever comment or rejoinder.  People just don’t talk like that--even erudite legal or law-enforcement professionals. 
  • Wouldn’t society have been better served if Martha Stewart had been sentenced to community service and a multimillion-dollar donation to a women’s shelter or a food pantry . . .  instead of making her twiddle her thumbs in a prison cell? What kind of debt to society was that?
  • jimjustsaying’s Consumer Tip of the Week:  Check those receipts!  Scanners are getting better, but errors are still too commonplace, i.e., charging you regular price rather than the sale price, double scanning of a single item, etc.  I still see them.
  • Sure, the store will rectify the error if you’re diligent enough to catch it.  But . . . there’s another price to be paid in the process--standing in line waiting for the Customer Service person to handle all the folks in front of you who are buying lottery tickets, stamps, cigarettes, money orders or renting the carpet-cleaning machine.
  •  jimjustsaying’s Media Word of the Week (a word you see only in headlines but never hear any normal person use in everyday life):  Quell.  (As in, “NATO forces quell uprising in Latvia.”)
  • Favorite song title: “When the phone don’t ring, you’ll know it’s me!”--Gordon Cormier, lyricist
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Fudd.”  As in David “Fudd” Wiegand, Door County Daily News.  R.I.P., Mr. Wiegand
  • Let's kill all the lawyers?  Well, we don't have to--the robots will.
  • According to news reports, law firms are using artificial intelligence (AI) to do contract analysis, hunt for client conflicts and even craft litigation strategy. (But I'm already up to speed on this:  I've got a robot on a retainer.)
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  "Say [actual party-goer's name here], did you know that the first bomb dropped on Berlin by the Allies during World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo?”
  • Trade war trivia: KFC reportedly sells more chicken in China than in the U.S.  ("Let's get some American food tonight.”)  And General Motors sells more cars there than in the U.S.  (Hard to think of a Chevy Cruze as a foreign car, but in Shanghai . . .  it is.)
  • Airwave nostalgia: How glorious it was when you could channel-switch and find Steve Allen, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Jack Benny and Sid Caesar without too much trouble.  We're not even close to equaling any one of those comedy giants much less all five--and we have a couple of hundred more channels. This is NOT the Golden Age of Television. 
  • Quiz answer:  Chicago (supposedly “the city of lovable losers”).
  •  jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Inelvitable.” n. The uncanny ability of the backup band in Elvis Presley movies to materialize from out of nowhere whenever Elvis decides to break into song--“Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe,” Rich Hall and Friends
  • No Smoking Section: HBO Max has digitally airbrushed cigarettes out of posters for its classic movies, The Week magazine reports, which left stars such as Warren Beatty and Paul Newman gesturing strangely at their mouths with empty fingers. 
  • Tipsters tell me that Woody Allen is working on a film about a female marathon runner.  Working title: “Hannah and Her Blisters.”
  • Drudging Around: Did Nostradamus predict Queen’s death 40 years ago? . . . Soon electric cars could charge faster than iPhone . . . Half cows, entire pigs: Families buying in bulk . . . Woman touted as “Mother Theresa” ran $196 million Ponzi scheme . . . Nightmare of abuse at Christian “troubled teen ranches” in Texas; branded with a cross and tied to a goat as punishment . . . Utah named worst state for road rage . . . Another Cal. exodus: Dairy cows leave for greener pastures in Tex., Ariz. . . . Bronx mob leader survived five attacks in one year before rubbed out on son’s orders, prosecutors say . . . Denver giving homeless $12,000 no-strings-attached cash . . .   Salt Lake City sewers emit mysterious music in homes . . . Human remains can literally be used as compost . . . McDonald’s has new Happy Meals--for adults. (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.) 
  •  “In the parade will be several hundred school children carrying flags and city officials.”--Worcester (Mass.)  Telegram via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel
  • He said it: “New York has always been going to hell, but somehow it never gets there.”--Robert M. Pirsig, author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
  • She said it: “Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.”--Dorothy Parker
  •  jimjustsaying’s Fortune Cookie Facts:  About 30 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrates--including 3 grams of sugar, although some are sugarless.  (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • ·Choice explosion run amok:  Thirty years ago, Colgate had two varieties of toothpaste. Today, it has 32, excluding the four they make for children.  You could use one kind a day for a month and still have one or two left over.
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: Amen dico tibi nudus natat, qui egreditur, dum Caesar in aridum.  (“You can’t tell who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.”)--Warren Buffett)

    Special thanks to Cary Oakey, this month’s Popcorn intern.


Burial fit for a queen . . .

. . . but what of monarchy’s true cost?

Queen Victoria’s funeral was almost a royal mess

With no photos for reference, and few people alive who remembered the last sovereign’s death, royal servants were at a loss for how to commemorate the late monarch

40 years of covering Congress

Recollections from an Associated Press reporter

Unusual origin stories of nine everyday household items

The smoke detector was “invented” by accident

Will this be an asterisk election?

It takes something unusual for the president’s party to do well in the midterms

The elusive power of zero

Who decided that nothing should be something?

What is nothing?

A physicist and a philosopher explain that nothing is really something!


Inside the struggle to reinvent 'Saturday Night Live'

Middle-age is no joke. 

And as “Saturday Night Live” has its 50th birthday on the horizon--the show premieres Season 48 on October 1--some are wondering if the years have taken a toll.

Seven of the main cast members have left: Pete Davidson, Chris Redd, Kate McKinnon, Kyle Mooney, Aidy Bryant, Melissa Villasenor and Alex Moffat. Featured player Aristotle Athari is also gone, while Cecily Strong, who seemed to suggest on last season’s finale that she was out, will be returning, according to a source.

As of press time, only four replacements have been announced.

Meanwhile, several large questions loom over the show: Where does it go from here? What happens when creator Lorne Michaels, now 77, finally retires--and when will that be? And has the show lost all its youthful buzz with tabloid favorite Davidson--famous for his romantic life (Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Margaret Qualley, Kate Beckinsale), feuds (Kanye West) and honesty about his mental-health struggles--dropping out?

Multiple sources told The Post that the decision not to replace everyone is calculated, as the large size of last year’s cast--16 repertory players plus five featured cast members--was actually hurting it.

“Their cast last year got to be pretty sizable, but what my understanding from Lorne was, during Covid everyone wanted to stay together. It’s unusual they had such a large cast,” said a TV industry source. “One thing I had heard is that there were so many people last season that they weren’t able to feature people in the way that they wanted to.

“Now, [Michaels] has got to develop new people.”

A spokesperson for Michaels confirmed to The Post: “Because of the pandemic, no one left "for the past couple years”--but that didn’t stop the show from adding newcomers. “The way the series has survived is by renewal. Because if the show doesn’t add people every year, the show isn’t the show.”

Some, like McKinnon, “were natural to leave,” the insider said. “Kate was going to leave forever; obviously, she had a few things on the side”--including voiceover work such as “The Magic School Bus” series. Davidson, meanwhile, has regularly been making movies (“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” “The King of Staten Island”) and Bryant starred on Hulu’s “Shrill.” Redd is set to voice a lead role in a yet-to-be titled project from Michaels’ Broadway Video and Audible and is attached to star in the feature film “Cyber Monday.”

The industry source, however, hinted that there might be more to Redd’s departure, which was just announced this week: “Not the easiest person, to be honest. [There was a need to] calm him down over stuff. [He had] one foot in, one foot out.”

A representative had no comment but a source close to the show said: “Chris Redd is amazingly talented and is always a pleasure to work with.”

According to Asylum NYC improv club owner Norm Laviolette, Michaels and others in his talent acquisition crew have not seem freaked out by what seems like a mass exodus of talent.

As usual, “SNL” casting executives arranged showcase auditions in various cities across the US, including the Asylum in Chelsea. There were 25 performers culled from hundreds of contenders from stand-up stages, the Internet and social media.

“There is no more urgency [than in previous years],” said Laviolette. “It gets tricky when all of a sudden a big percentage of your ensemble moves on. But are all the people leaving on their own accord? Or did ‘SNL’ shepherd some of them out the door? I would argue that if somebody has been there for 12 or 13 years, they are holding a spot for someone.”

Though the valuable and versatile Kenan Thompson has been on the show for 20 seasons, the TV source pointed out that he is an anomaly: “The average time is seven or eight years for how long people stay.”

Speaking of anomalies, it’s been extremely rare for the show to have a tabloid lightning rod like it did with Davidson. “Pete was the hot topic on Weekend Update. Everyone wanted to do sketches with him because he was the guy who got talked about on Page Six,” said Cris Italia, co-owner of the Stand NYC comedy club, told The Post. “He had that impact. [Executives at ‘SNL’] would never say it, but I’m sure they were okay with all the attention. They will never say they want their guys on Page Six, but it helped ratings.”

Backstage at the 2022 Emmy Awards on Sept. 12, Michaels told reporters: “This will be a transition year. Change years are always difficult but always exciting.”

In a New York Times interview this week, he remarked that “Rebirth, that period, it’s painful. I’ve lived through it five or six times. Most people haven’t lived through it more than once or twice. But it’s always bumpy.”

Many in the industry speculate the legendary producer is determined to get to Season 50 and then bow out. Maybe. Sort of.

“He’ll continue until the 50th anniversary year and then he will make a dignified retreat,” said Tom Shales, co-author of “Live From New York,” an oral history of the show. “That is based on my talking to him. I don’t think it is humanly possible to go beyond that. [That] will absolutely be his last year. He’s said as much.

“Lorne will have an office [at the 30 Rock Center headquarters of ‘SNL’] and hang out, but he will feel self-conscious. He’ll keep his office and feel sheepish about being in there. He’ll be the gray old eminence and that is not his style,” Shales, who said that he remains in communication with Michaels, predicted. “He will say, ‘Oh I don’t want to be involved in the weekly show.’ But he won’t be able to resist it. That will bring some complications.”

The industry source, who’s heard Michaels brush off retirement rumors, told The Post, “‘I’m not retiring’ is his thing, but 50 is going to come and he’s going to reconsider — unless he’s having too much fun.”

The Michaels spokesperson told The Post: “Lorne has no plans to retire.”

But if and when he does step down, what happens next for “SNL”?

It is possible that they will completely redo the show so it is not ‘SNL’ as we know it. You probably will still want a cold open and someone saying, ‘Live from New York…’ but you will want to minimize comparisons [between the current version of the show and a new one],” Shales said.

As to who will take the reins, the industry source predicted: “Some of the old alums could take over. You need someone good, with talent; a good producer, a good name in the industry. I don’t think it would be Tina [Fey] but it would have to be someone like that.”

One person it won’t be is Lindsay Shookus, the “SNL” producer who abruptly departed last month after 20 years and had her own tabloid notoriety by dating Ben Affleck on and off from 2017 to 2019. She had been responsible for finding new talent and booking musical guests.

“She herself had debated producing but always backed away from it,” said the industry source, who also called Shookus a “polarizing” figure among the cast and crew.

Shookus had no comment.

Former cast-member Joe Piscopo, who worked on “SNL” in 1980 when Michaels was hiatus as a full-time producer, believes that replacing him will be borderline impossible.

“As long as Mr. Michaels is at the helm, the show is indestructible,” Piscopo told The Post. “He leaves, and you are talking a situation. I don’t know if he can be replaced and if the show can last after his departure. Not a lot of people have the magic glitter that Lorne has. I don’t know how you recover.”

Even this many years in, Michaels remains remarkably hands-on.

“Lorne came down [to watch the auditions],” said Asylum’s Laviolette. “People are surprised that Lorne still comes down and watches. He would have every reason to put it on cruise control and have someone else vetting the first 25 people. That he is still down there tells me that the guy still loves it.”

Which doesn’t necessarily mean he shows it. Whenever Michaels liked a contender, Laviolette said, “He laughed quietly. And not a lot.”

For newcomers, there are definite advantages that come with being on a show as entrenched as “SNL”: “You get staffed as a writer or cast as a performer and you automatically get an agent and a manager and more work opportunities--managers and agents are lining up to sign you,” Laviolette said. But to some young talents, it resides off the radar.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t even paid attention [to the goings on at ‘SNL’],” comedian Leonard Ouzts told The Post. “‘SNL’ is not a huge factor in my life. I had a chance to get a couple auditions. Michael Che is a good friend and the conversation came up that he could [help get] me an audition. Through my agency, I could get an audition. ‘SNL’ wasn’t a thing for me. I am 29. When I grew up, the biggest thing was ‘Wild ‘N Out.'”

When it comes to those left on the show, the industry source said there are definite stars.

“[‘Weekend Update’ hosts] Colin Jost and Michael Che are good anchors for the show. Ego [Nwodim] is getting more time. Chloe [Fineman] is the rising star. Bowen could do so much more than they’re using him for--he’s so popular,” the source said of writer-turned-cast member Bowen Yang, who co-starred in the summer’s “Fire Island” movie. “Bowen and Chloe are natural stars.”

Michaels has also remained a guiding hand in many players’ careers outside of “SNL”--helping produce everything from Mike Myers’ “Wayne’s World” movies to Tina Fey’s “30 Rock,” Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers’ late-night NBC talk shows, Fred Armisen’s “Portlandia,” “That Damn Michael Che” on HBO and Thompson’s recent failed “Kenan” sitcom.

Italia pointed out that Michaels has evolved over time, becoming more willing to let performers take weeks off from “SNL” to work on other projects.

“Pete was working on a film for most of last season,” said Italia of Davidson. Later, “Lorne asked Pete what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to do a series loosely based on his life and now it’s filming.” The sitcom, “Bupkis,” is being produced by Michaels’ Broadway Video production company and will air on Peacock.

Sources agree that a post-Michaels “SNL” is difficult to picture.

It’s hard to imagine both the show without Lorne and Lorne without the show,” Shales said, speculating on the notion of a new leader. “It’s not like we’ll be getting a new pope--though, maybe in television terms, it is that.”

--Michael Kaplan and Sarah Nathan, New York Post 

 As Fed fights inflation, recession fears grow

"Investing lesson of the week," said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial: "Never trust a politician." Word out of the White House for weeks has been that "inflation is under control," and the markets took Washington's word for it. But [a recent] Consumer Price Index was a reality check: Inflation is still raging. Overall inflation seemed to rise only a little, to 8.3 percent. But that's deceptive, because gasoline prices dropped 10.6 percent; other prices went up across the board. Food costs are now "the biggest pain point for consumers," with grocery prices up 13.5 percent from a year ago. Core prices, which exclude food and energy, "also keep rising." The 6.2 percent surge in shelter costs for the year is the highest since 1983. It's no surprise that markets promptly suffered one of the worst weeks of the year on the release of the report, which confirmed that the Federal Reserve must continue its economic tightening.

With "markets reeling," the Fed has clearly gotten the message on inflation, said Davide Barbuscia and David Randall in Reuters. "Just months ago, investors worried the Federal Reserve was not fighting inflation aggressively enough." Now they are just as worried that the Fed will overshoot the mark and "plunge the economy into recession." The central bank this week issued its third consecutive three-quarter-point rate hike, and investors have also begun "pricing in meatier rate hikes down the road." While most of the economy still "appears to be humming along," delivery giant FedEx warned of a global economic stumble, and there may not be time for the Fed to gauge the full effects of its rate increases before they have gone too far.

The CPI numbers need to be put in perspective, said John Cassidy in The New Yorker. "In June, the headline inflation rate was 9.1 percent, so in two months it has declined by 0.8 percentage points." That's nothing to scoff at. The steady decline in fuel prices also "augurs well for anyone who buys food," since one of the factors influencing food costs is higher transportation costs. The slowdown we've seen in the housing market is also encouraging, because "buying will become a more attractive option, reducing demand for rentals." 

Picking out a few positive signs and saying they mean inflation will go away is wishful thinking, said Henry Olsen in The Washington Post. "President Biden rightly touts falling gas prices as an accomplishment," but "the money Americans save when filling their tanks simply goes out the door to pay for the food on their tables." There is no doubt that inflation will stick around as a major election issue. The CPI report "pretty much dashed" the hopes that the 2021–22 inflation surge would resolve harmlessly, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. "There will, alas, be pain." The economy and labor market "are still running very hot," and we won't get inflation down until those change. The Fed's rate hikes will cause unemployment to rise, although economists differ on their predictions for how high it needs to go. "The truth is that nobody knows for sure."

--The Week 

Why do you like the music you like?  Science weighs in

Have you wondered why you love a particular song or genre of music? The answer may lie in your personality, although other factors also play a role, researchers say.

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period -- 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 - more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.

"Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music," says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as "White Knuckles" by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found.

"Valence is a spectrum," from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as "Razzle Dazzle" by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates "both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity," Greenberg says. "We found that rapper Pitbull's music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth."

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. "High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it," he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. "When people listen to music, they're being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves," Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

"The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music," Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people's musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Our cognitive styles and how we think may also predict what types of music we may like. A 2015 study by Greenberg and his colleagues distinguishes between systemizers and empathizers -- people who understand the world through thoughts and emotions vs. people who are interested in rules and systems. "Empathizers tend to prefer sadness in music whereas [systemizers] prefer more intensity in music," Greenberg said. "A lot of IT [and] data science professionals [are] high on systemizing and also prefer really intense music."

Also, both empathizers and systemizers listen to music with high depth, but empathizers prefer attributes that represent emotional depth, and systemizers prefer attributes that represent intellectual depth and technical complexity.

While personality may be one determinant of our musical preferences, another could be the context. Minsu Park and his colleagues identified temporal patterns in listening behavior - people tend to listen to relaxing music in the evening and energetic music during the day. "This fluctuation is almost identical regardless of your cultural location and other demographic information," says Park, assistant professor of social research and public policy at New York University Abu Dhabi.

There is, however, a baseline difference between people from different cultures. In Latin America, people tend to listen to "more arousing music compared to other people in other regions," and in Asia, they tend to listen to "more relaxing music [than] people in other regions," Park says.

Age and gender also are linked with certain kinds of music. Younger people tend to like intense music and older people tend to dislike it, Greenberg's research shows. Listeners of mellow music are more likely to be women, and listeners of intense music are more likely to be men and from the Western hemisphere.

There also are age trends in how people engage with music.

A 2013 study that examined data from two studies of more than a quarter-million individuals showed that "Young people listen to music significantly more often than do middle-aged adults, and young people listen to music in a wide variety of contexts, whereas adults listen to music primarily in private contexts."

Personality may influence our musical taste, but it's important to note that changes in musical taste do not indicate a change in personality. Even if we change what we listen to, we implicitly remain the same people.

"An introvert may change over time ... but ultimately their core [and] basis will be introversion," Greenberg says.

--Nayantara Dutta, special to the Washington Post

Last 10 Quotes from David Foster-Wallace

1. “The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.” 

2. “I am not what you see and hear.” 

3. “Mediocrity is contextual.” 

4. “It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.” 

5. “I had kind of a midlife crisis at twenty, which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity.” 

6. “There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.” 

7. “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.” 

8. “Both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trench-coated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.” 

9. “The thing about people who are truly and malignantly crazy: their real genius is for making the people around them think they themselves are crazy. In military science, this is called Psy-Ops for your info.” 

10. “I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I.”

--Everyday Power




By Jim Szantor

Some people do not cry when onions are peeled, chopped sliced or diced.  Others cry when they are merely mentioned or even implied.  What is it about the allium cepa that causes it to be de rigueur in recipes, seemingly mandatory at McDonald’s and compulsory in casseroles?

What magical properties accrue to this vile vegetable of the hollow, tubular leaves and edible, rounded bulb? What culinary clout does it hold? Do onions cure cancer, prevent baldness or remove unsightly age spots? Are they a surefire Covid killer?

Were onions served at the Last Supper?  Does Taylor Swift eat them?

Some answers, assertions and affirmations in a moment. First, though, a position paper of sorts on the plight of one who must make his way as a consumer in an onion-obsessed world.

If the onion does to you all the things it does to someone who cannot stand, bear, countenance, abide or otherwise tolerate its taste, you know what it is:

--To sit down to a meal anywhere and find the main dish (not to mention the appetizer, soup or salad) loaded with the loathsome ingredient.  How to negotiate this culinary minefield politely if not furtively without offending the hostess?  How to suppress the whimpering and retching attendant to the ordeal?

--To wait endlessly—punitively—at fast-food establishments that package the item with other, more respectable and comestible condiments.  Kudos to the franchises that make the onion an option; a pox on those that operate under the assumption that those little white, chopped interlopers will be loved and consumed with relish by all.

--To grab eagerly for a new entrée in the supermarket’s frozen food section, only to recoil when it is discovered that onions--dehydrated, flaked, powdered or fuel-injected--are part of the bargain, take it or leave it. (In the finest of print, of course.)

It is a mystery why the onions are so omnipresent in the gustatory scheme of things, when to some they are slimy if boiled, repugnant if raw and palatable only if fried to a crisp—to such a crisp, that is, that only the crisp, and not the actual onion essence, is tasted.  (Full disclosure: I recall quite fondly the Onion Straws served by a New Orleans eatery, a close encounter I have yet to live down, there being is a living witness.)

The true enemy of the onion feels not only persecuted but also triumphant when able to detect the faintest evidence of its flavoring.  Cook a beef stew with boiled onions in a mesh bag and remove them prior to serving? The congenital onion-hater can tell.   That’s because the onion has little subtlety, is totally devoid of finesse.  It always lingers near the scene of the crime, fouling the breath and otherwise making its ingestion hard to forget.  But this seasoned onion adversary survives each close encounter, his palate and olfactory glands able to detect its unpleasant properties everywhere.

It could be argued that eating a hamburger with onions is—dare I say it?—an antisocial act.  My hamburger with tomato and pickles flies under the radar, even in close quarters.  Someone eating one loaded with onions in whatever form?  He or she is, in effect, broadcasting with appallingly broad bandwidth, callously indifferent to the consequences!

The onion’s raison d’etre?

According to noted chef Jean Banchet of Le Francaise in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling’s fabled Restaurant Row, “Onions add a lot of flavor, a unique flavor, to soups, sauces and salads.”  He prefers cooked over raw, though, and opts for the shallot, an onion cousin, for fish and bordelaise sauce.

The onion, in the allium giganteum genus, is a real attention-getter, both in the garden and in cut flower arrangements.  It is one, however, that even Mr. Anti-Onion can appreciate, for this flowery version is not to be eaten.

But the more common garden variety is one that a former colleague, Chicago Tribune food editor Joanne Will, says “is worth crying over.”

“Onions not only enrich other flavors but they make a statement of their own.  Just think of some of the things onionophiles would have to give up: deeply browned and caramelized sweet onion soup, boiled baby onions saturated with cream sauce (a must with Thanksgiving turkey), crisply delicious, battered onion rings.”

To a close and cherished associate (one who has prepared this author’s meals for 53-plus years), the onion is an ingredient both pleasurable and problematic.  To cater to her husband’s unfathomable oddity, meal preparation is fraught with strategies, dodges, reluctant omissions and, sometimes, downright deceit. In short, to keep peace in the family, she has to keep the onions out of the crock pot.

There are untold hardships for one who was born unequal in that his tase buds are out of step with the rest of humanity’s.  The onion, in its ubiquity, has made coping more cumbersome, ordering more odious and tasting more tentative for the afflicted.  Unquestionably, the onion is an affront, an imposition, equally detestable, whether served by gracious hostesses, celebrated chefs or sullen countermen.

But if you are among the majority who cannot live without onions, by all means indulge and enjoy.  This is only an open admission of an aberration, a venting of a lifelong loathing, not a produce section polemic.  Some of my best friends buy, cook eat and even grow them. But they’ve never grown on me.

Until the onion makes the headlines (remember the Great Potato Famine, the cranberry scare of 1959, Red Dye No. 2 and other periodic pantry-related panics), it will be the same old story for those who can’t stand them, those who dream of the day when restaurant signs and menus everywhere will contain these words:

No smoking, no substitutions, no onions.



The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they sre out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook  flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.


In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thueringer.”

“Thueringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)

Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor  



As Socrates famously wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One would well posit  that the unchallenged life is not worth living.  Or, if it is,  not as satisfying.

Most of my music-related activity since leaving the Air Force Band in late 1969 has been as an author and critic, my playing restricted solely to playing along with records at home.

Soloist Jim Szantor as lead alto David Bixler gives the cutoff on the final chord.

But that changed on Aug. 11 when I performed as a guest soloist on clarinet with the fabled Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra, a big band made up of some of the best jazz players in the country, comprising as they do the faculty that teaches the students who come to Egg Harbor in Door County for two-week sessions of intensive training and performance opportunities.  It's sort of a musical boot camp but with kindly but highly decorated instructors.  

My feature spot was "Ballad for Benny" a tune written by the late, great jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who was commissioned by Benny Goodman to write new material for the band's historic 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.   It was such a  significant cultural/political event back then that Walter Cronkite often led the CBS Nightly News with the band's latest exploits.

The 17-piece Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra prior to my introduction.

This tune was recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (with the great Phil Woods in a rare outing on clarinet instead of his usual lustrous alto sax) but never performed publicly in this country--till now.  If you do an internet search on some of the illustrious players in the band behind me --Dennis Mackrel, Clay Jenkins, Doug Stone, David Bixler, Tanya Darby, to name a few--you'll see why I'm so proud to have been selected to perform with them.

Part of the evening's program.
It was an oppressively muggy night (close to 100 percent humidity) in the un-air-conditioned hall, making intonation more of a challenge than usual. It took some months of chipping away at the rust that had accumulated over the years on my woodwind chops, but I was determined to have one last dance, so to speak, with the idiom that I have loved for a lifetime.  To paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the bandstand.  The rest is just waiting."  

Luckily for me, the wait is over.