Sunday, January 2, 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 was a teenage cartographer (for the CIA).
  • There are Christmas Specials on TV that I never miss, and this past Christmas was no exception. Here was my watched list, in no particular order:
    • “Christmas With the Gingriches” (encore presentation)
    • “Winnie the Pooh’s Holiday Pot Party”
    • “Police Navidad”
    • “Joey Buttafuoco’s First Incarcerated Christmas”
    • “Christopher Walken in a Winter Wonderland”
    • “The My Pillow Guy’s Nuttiest Holiday Traditions”
  • I can’t help but wonder how many people who asked me “So, how was your Christmas?” actually went to church, as my wife and I did? I know from anecdotal recollection/observation that there are people who will circle the mall parking lot for a half hour looking for a parking space . . . or will spend hours online “looking for the perfect gift” but can’t find an hour on Christmas Eve or Day to properly observe what—unless I’m grossly out of touch—is still a religious holiday. (But when those folks or a loved one are undergoing a crisis, who do they turn to? Hammacher Schlemmer? Amazon can deliver a lot, but no medical miracles that I’m aware of.)
  • “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”—Historian Henry Adams. (If Adams were a latter-day historian--he died in 1918--he probably would have said “teachers” and “they.” But the essential point is profound and unfortunately overlooked.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Decoding Service (“I translate misleading terms so you don’t have to”): Adjunct professor: Poorly paid part timer.
  • Headline: “Man in ER with World War II artillery shell in rectum.” Well, you hear of veterans who can’t get the war out of their heads, but apparently other body parts are in play as well.
  • Speaking of body parts: “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”—Alfred Hitchcock
  • jimjustsaying’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Item of the Month: A federal court in Germany ruled that a man who injured himself at home while walking from his bed to his work desk was technically “commuting” and was thus entitled to worker’s compensation.
  • There’s hardly a day goes by that I don’t see egregious examples of bad industrial design, idiotic graphic design (white type on a light gray or pale yellow background—oh so readable!), or bar codes pasted over vital product information when it easily could have been placed elsewhere. How we put a man on the Moon is a mystery to me. 
  • Memo to Psychology Today magazine: Your lack of a digital version (where type size can be enlarged) cost you a subscriber, given your insistence on running meaningless full-page illustrations that take up valuable space and thus forces you to downsize the article body type to stock-quotation size. What is the psychology behind that? 
  • Memo No. 2 (in case they didn’t get the point): Nobody subscribes to Psychology Today for the drawings. In an era in which people are reading print publications less and less, one would think publishers would mend their ways . . . or would at least add digital versions and do something to make the print experience more reader friendly. You would think . . . .
  • I’m so old, I can remember when you didn’t have to get a clerk to unlock most of the stuff you wanted to buy at Walgreen’s. (Tale of Two Cities: Nothing of the sort at the Walgreens in Door County; quite the opposite in metropolitan Milwaukee. Draw your own conclusions. And guess which stores have higher prices for the same items as a result of this “shrinkage”?)
  • “U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that there is enough cabbage to produce three heads for each person.”—Logan (Ohio) News, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel
  • jimjustsaying’s Product Ad Gaffe of the Month: The picture accompanying an advertisement for an electric can opener shows it opening a pull-tab can. (“Can-opener overkill,” Consumer Reports, August 2021 issue.)
  • Every time I see “Legendary rapper XXXX dead,” I have the same response most people over 50 have. One thing that all rappers seem to have in common: No discernible talent. This is a category with a mystifyingly massive amount of appeal.  Every era has its entertainment niches, but people like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey were recognized virtuoso performers, as were singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Rosemary Clooney, none of whom can be remembered uttering obscene lyrics. Moral: When the bar drops, it really drops.   
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Postalports.” n. The annoying windows in envelopes that never line up with the address information.—“More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends
  • Redundancy Patrol (“P” division): Past experience, personal opinion, pick and choose.
  • “Not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”—Novelist Anne Lamott
  • Anderson Cooper of CNN: Two first names or two last names?  I like him; he’s perhaps the best among many good people at CNN. But does he have to moonlight for “60 Minutes”? (Fun Fact: AC was a guest on “The Tonight Show” on Sept. 17, 1970, at age 3, along with his mother. That would be . . . Gloria Vanderbilt. So this is obviously a guy in need of two incomes.)
  • Ah, CNN: The station that let Zoom “self-pleasurer” Jeffrey Toobin back on the air! As if he’s the premier legal analyst in the nation—can’t do without him. No word from the station as to whether Harvey Weinstein will be furloughed from prison to produce this year’s Girl Scout Jamboree. (Jeffrey Epstein is no longer available, and Anthony Weiner was unavailable for comment.)
  • “I saw this wino, and he was eating grapes. I was like, ‘Dude, you have to wait.’ "—Mitch Hedberg
  • Drudging Around: Suspect in celebrity shooting shoots self in foot . . . That radio DJ you just heard may have been a robot . . . Pals yank dead biker out of his coffin to take him on one last motorcycle ride . . . Rare blizzard warning in Hawaii; 12 inches of snow expected . . . Plumber finds dozens of cash envelopes inside wall at Osteen megachurch . . .. Man tries to avoid getting covid jab with fake arm . . . Could seaweed save humanity? . . . International Space Station swerves to avoid space junk--again! . . . Tourists bask on battlefield as drug gangs fight over Mexican resort town . . . Volunteer at therapy farm dies after being rammed by sheep . . . Tesla drivers can now play video games even while car is moving . . . Mom helped son behead pregnant sister before he posed for selfie, police say . . . How making $300,000 in San Francisco means living paycheck to paycheck . . . Pastor dressed in drag for HBO. Blowback led to him being relieved of duties . . . Trans can’t be baptized until they’ve “repented,” diocese says . . . Cartels hiring kids to be hitmen . . . Mom stole daughter’s identity to start college, date young guys . . . Woman arrested for breaking sink during sex in restaurant bathroom . . . Study: Blood from athletes could keep brains of sedentary people healthy . . . Judge accidentally tased in own courtroom . . . Bay-area car owners leaving trunks open to avoid forced entry by thieves . . . Florida couple had massive hive with 80,000 bees in wall . . . United Airlines bans Florida man after wearing thong as mask . . . Teen jumps out of McDonald’s drive-thru to save choking customer . . . Chinese McDonald's installs bikes for customers to pedal while dining . . . Japan won’t let people have kids, so they turn to sperm black market . . . LA Horror Show: Woman armed with pick axe shoplifts in broad daylight . . . Cops: Miami realtor feared to be serial killer . . . Scientists discover new human body part (masseter muscle, in lower jaw, essential for chewing) . . . Meet the feminist nuns who grow weed . . . Nostradamus predictions for 2022: Cannibals, robots, cryptocurrency . . . Study: Gene found in people from Greenland makes ice cream as healthy as broccoli . . . Alexa tells 10-year-old to touch live plug with penny! . . . Wild boar charges surfer on water in Hawaii . . . Fish fall from sky in Texas . . . Nasal spray to cure dementia? (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators for this month’s forehead-slappers and jaw-droppers.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Foxhunter.” As in, Wesley “Foxhunter” Arthur Hovde, Door County Daily News, Nov. 6, 2021
  • jimjustsaying’s Classified Ad of the Month (proving there’s a market for just about everything): “Clay Aiken Bobblehead, $10.” (Door County Advocate, Dec.18, 2021.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Month: “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that some cats are actually allergic to humans?”
  • Whatever happened to Pia Zadora?
  • "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”—Bill Gates
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: Hoc anno non potest esse quod malum, sicut ultimum anni, potest? (“This year can't possibly be as bad as last year, can it?”)


 What we don't want to know

The study of deliberate ignorance reveals the topics people want to remain in the dark about

Colors:  Where did they go?  An investigation

Why do so many TV shows and movies look like they were filmed in a gray wasteland?


The end of the line

Physical lines are disappearing at theme parks, doctor's offices and clothing stores, Axios' Erica Pandey reports. In their place: Tech solutions that let you book a slot online, then wait to be notified when it's your turn.

There are already professional line sitters--including Same Ole Line Dudes, who specialize in such iconic NYC tasks as waiting for standby "Saturday Night Live" tickets.

TaskRabbit offers "line standers." And Whyline, an Argentinian company just acquired by CLEAR, offers an app that keeps you up to date on your wait time--and lets you know when you need to show up.

At Erica's local COVID testing center in Hoboken, N.J., patients stand in a quick line to check in, then enter a virtual queue via an app called Solv Health.  Then you can go home while you wait for a text alert to return to get tested.

It beats standing in the cold for hours--with lots of people who think they might be infected.

                                                                                                                                    --Axios PM

Going out to eat in the age of The Shrinking Menu

This year, 60% of restaurants reported reducing their menu size, according to Datassential, a food-industry market-research firm that studied more than 4,800 menus in the U.S. The menus at fine-dining establishments were hit especially hard, with the number of items declining 23% over 2021, says Datassential’s Sean Jafar, who studies menu trends. 

The consumer-price index for food away from home, which includes purchases from restaurants, rose 5.8% over the past year, the largest 12-month increase since 1982, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

Today’s restaurants are focused on reining in appetizer and dessert offerings. Pricey proteins such as tuna, steak and salmon are also harder to find at some upscale spots. “A lot of restaurants are trying to keep the quality, not quantity,” Jafar says. Bird Dog in Palo Alto, Calif., now offers 17 dishes, including Wagyu short rib. 

After a 19-month shutdown, Bird Dog returned with 17 dishes, just over half of what it used to offer, chef-owner Robbie Wilson says. Rather than rotate seasonal dishes and experiment with new ingredients, he redesigned the menu to introduce fewer new items throughout the year. A smaller, more static offering makes it easier for kitchen staff to perfect entrees, including black cod and Wagyu short rib. “We’re a little bit more of a greatest-hits album,” Wilson says of the new menu. 

Customers have noticed some of Bird Dog’s missing dishes. A popular wood-grilled avocado served with fresh wasabi, as well as fried chicken thighs in green curry, are now too costly to prepare. Both were guest favorites but are still available by request, Wilson says, to keep regulars happy. 

At Boulton & Watt in New York City, trimming the menu started with analyzing ingredients and prep time, chef and co-owner David Rotter says. For a fried-green-tomato dish, the restaurant stopped using pricey heirlooms, which tend to spoil quickly. It kept its signature blackened brick chicken, which is loved by guests but time-intensive to make. 

Other dishes that took too long or were too costly were cut. Sous chef Tony Rianos at Boulton & Watt, which analyzed the cost of tomatoes and other ingredients as it reduced the number of dishes on its menu.  Now the restaurant places more emphasis on preparing ingredients ahead of time, such as fresh pasta that is then frozen in bulk. 

After an uptick in in-person dining sales earlier this year, newly emerging Covid-19 variants are once again causing a slowdown in reservations, Rotter says. Rather than becoming nostalgic about favorite dishes, he studied the restaurant’s inventory tracking and sales reports to justify the cuts. “We are really trying to save our business,” he says. 

Restaurant menus often expand and shrink with the economy. Many menus shrank after the onset of the 2009 recession, but expanded as business came back, Datassential’s Jafar says. The number of menu items can tick up or down by roughly 10% depending on the year, but he says most restaurants haven’t experienced the huge swings associated with the pandemic.

Diners say even a short dine-in menu feels more exciting after experiencing one too many nights of mediocre carryout. 

“During Covid, we got so used to having limited options,” says Malitta Seamon, a management consultant in Upper Marlboro, Md. Ms. Seamon spent months ordering the activated charcoal crust pizza at Bidwell in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market, an indoor food market with local vendors. Recently, she was pleased to find the restaurant has brought back her favorite, salmon with a side of pear salad. 

Some restaurateurs are preparing to deal with higher food prices and staffing shortages for the long haul. Ani Meinhold says cutting the menu in half at her Vietnamese-inspired spot, Phuc Yea, has helped her re-imagine the Miami restaurant. With the price of proteins at least 30% higher and four part-time kitchen employees gone, Meinhold realized the menu needed to be shorter and more upscale to help the restaurant survive. 

The Miami restaurant Phuc Yea now offers pricier dishes, such as a short rib pho for $59.  To create a more high-end experience, she now offers 70 wine bottles for sale and a 24-item menu with expensive ingredients that include caviar, truffles and oysters to command higher check averages. A smoked beef short rib pho broth now sells for $59, compared with an earlier pho dish that cost $24. “We did a complete overhaul,” she says.

Philadelphia-based chef Greg Vernick worries that having a shorter menu undermines repeat business at his nine-year-old restaurant, Vernick Food & Drink. Today, diners can choose among seven appetizers, five entrees and three sides—down from the 30 items he offered in prior years. Longtime Vernick diner Linda Lightman says the shorter menu was an adjustment, but the restaurant kept some of her favorites. She was used to trying all the different small bites while sitting at the restaurant’s bar with her husband. 

Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia has cut its menu in half during the pandemic.  “At first, you’re like, ‘Where are all the choices?’” says Lightman, who owns an online consignment business. Now she always opts for the arctic char crudo and fromage blanc toast because there are fewer items to choose from. 

Vernick says he is slowly rebuilding the menu. He has had to cut most of the raw-bar dishes, which are costly and tend to have a short shelf life. But he hopes to offer regulars more of their favorites in 2022. “We don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin,” he says. “We’ve taken the approach: Crawl, walk, run."
--Alina Dizik, Wall Street Journal

6 ways to delete yourself from the Internet

Depending on when you were born, there’s a good chance you’ve spent either several decades online or have never known an offline world. Whatever the case, the internet and its advertising giants know a huge amount about your life.

Amazon, Facebook, and Google all have reams of data about you--including your likes and dislikes, health information and social connections--but they’re not the only ones. Countless murky data brokers that you’ve never heard of collect huge quantities of information about you and sell it on. This data is then used by other companies you’ve likely never heard of to nudge you into buying more stuff. On top of that, all your ancient web forum comments and ill-advised social media posts are still out there, waiting to turn you into a milkshake duck.

At this stage it’s going to be very difficult to completely delete yourself from the internet, but there are some steps you can take to remove a lot of it. Removing personal information and deleting accounts is a fiddly process, so it’s better to break it down into a few smaller steps and tackle them over time.

Opt out from data brokers

Collecting and selling your data is big business. In 2019 the US state of Vermont passed a law requiring all companies buying and selling third-party personal information to register: In response, more than
 120 firms logged their details. They included companies building search tools to look up individuals, firms handling location data, and those specializing in your health data. These companies collect everything from your name, address and date of birth to your Social Security number, buying habits and where you went to school and for how long.

Featured video

Among the biggest data brokers are Acxiom, Equifax (yes, that one), Experian, Oracle and Epsilon. Some, but not all, data brokers let people opt out of having their personal information processed--this also depends on where you are in the world--but the process isn’t straightforward. You’ll often have to contact them via email, fill in online forms and provide extra identification information.

The US-based nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has created a database of data brokers that contains their email addresses, links to their privacy policies and info about whether they let you opt out. There are 231 US companies on the list, which gives you an idea of how big the data brokerage industry is.

If you’re covered by Europe’s GDPR or California’s Consumer Privacy Act, you can also send requests for your data to be deleted. Privacy-focused group YourDigitalRights has created opt-out forms for 10 of the biggest data brokers to speed up the process of getting your information deleted. It’s probably best to start opting out of the biggest companies first.

Get Google search results updated

You can’t change the way that Google displays its search results, but there are some limited steps you can take to make sure that what’s displayed is up to date and to remove harmful details, such as doxing attempts. If a web page has been updated by its owner but it isn’t reflected in Google’s search results, you can use its tool to remove outdated content. Google will update its search results for pages that no longer exist or are significantly different to the versions it has indexed previously.

Google will also consider requests to remove harmful content. If there are non-consensual explicit images; fake pornography; financial, medical, or national ID data; doxing; or images of children on websites then you can ask for them to be removed. To do so, you’ll have to submit a form and provide evidence of the content.

There’s also the Right to be Forgotten, a principle that was established in European courts in 2014 and was incorporated into GDPR in 2018. This allows certain specific information to be removed from search results, including Google, when relevant criteria are met. Generally, if information about you is in the public interest then it will be very difficult to get it removed from search results.

Delete old online accounts

There’s no real shortcut to finding and deleting accounts that you don’t use anymore. But if you really want to minimize your online presence then you need to track down those old Myspace and Tumblr accounts and remove all traces of them. For that you’re going to need a web browser--preferably on a laptop or desktop--and a good chunk of time.

Start by making a list of all the old accounts you remember using--email addresses and usernames you’ve used can be helpful--and then work through them one by one. For each you’ll need to sign in or recover the account and navigate through the deletion process. As a handy starting point, has a list of links that point to the deletion pages of everything from Gumtree to Vimeo.

If your list of accounts to delete is running short, then it’s worth checking saved logins in your password manager or browser to refresh your memory. Alternatively, you can search your inbox for old subscriptions and online accounts. Entering your email or phone number into the data-breach-notification service Have I Been Pwned? will trawl more than 500 data beaches for your details and is also likely to remind you of some obscure old accounts you’ve forgotten about. You’ll still have to do the hard work of shutting down the accounts, though.

You should also search for your name online and combine it with some other pieces of personal data--for instance your email address or where you live--to see what comes up. If you’re diving deep into your online history and attempting to remove old posts on forums or similar services you may have to email web administrators. If the contact details aren’t clear, as might be the case with really old pages, one starting point is to check the web registration details through a WHOIS lookup. Alternatively, if the Wayback Machine has archived the page you’re looking for it may have preserved old contact details.

There are some dedicated services that will attempt to look for and delete your old accounts by scanning your emails. But it’s often unclear how they’re using your data--the parent company of email unsubscription service Unroll.Me was found selling user data in 2017--so it’s best to avoid them if you can.

Clean up your digital history

Even if you’re not deleting your online accounts you can still clean up what data you store online. It’s likely your email account contains thousands of old messages (and attachments) dating back years; your Facebook and Twitter accounts might still have posts on them that you’d rather didn’t resurface publicly.

We’ve run down some of the best ways to clean up your digital health here. But if you’re using Gmail you can bulk-delete old messages by using the search command “older_than:” and adding a time period (1y or 6m, for instance), and then selecting all messages and deleting them.

Publicly posted data--either photos or text--is obviously far more likely to be found by others. If you’re considering making the plunge and deleting your current profiles or existing posts, consider downloading and backing up your posts first. Almost all major social media platforms have backup options in their settings.

Twitter doesn’t have any tools to easily delete all your old tweets in bulk, but third-party services do. Both Tweet Deleter and TweetDelete will get rid of your old tweets. If you’re deleting in bulk, both services can be a little glitchy when handling years of data. Forking out TweetDeleter’s monthly $5.99 cost--you can cancel after one month--may be worth it to delete an unlimited number of tweets at once. Keep in mind that by allowing any third-party service access to your online accounts, they may be able to access information stored within them, such as your direct messages. Both company’s privacy policies detail what they do with your data. Alternatively, if you just want to delete your Twitter account entirely you’ll need to follow these steps.

Google doesn’t index your individual Facebook posts, so they won’t show up in its search results. But if you’re trying to remove as much of your history from the internet as possible you should also delete your old posts or at least stop people from seeing them. In Facebook head to Settings & privacy, Activity log and select the type of activity you want to delete--ranging from posts, to photos you’re tagged in. The tool isn’t the most streamlined if you want to delete years of Facebook usage, but as with all efforts to wipe yourself from the internet you’ll get better results if you spend more time doing it. Alternatively, you can just delete your Facebook account entirely.

Go nuclear

A lot of the ways to remove yourself from the web are time-consuming and involve a lot of paperwork. There may be some instances where you may want to try to speed things up a little or use legal muscle. It may be sensible to seek legal advice and help removing your data from the web if it involves defamatory statements, explicit photographs and other harmful content.

While you should treat any third-party data-removal service with caution--make sure you read their privacy policies before using them--there are some paid options for helping remove yourself from the web. DeleteMe will try to remove your data from data brokers selling your information, for example. And Jumbo can alert you to data breaches and automatically delete new social media posts after a certain number of days.

Future protections

It’s pretty much impossible to keep your data off the internet entirely, but there are some steps you can take going forward. First, consider how much information you want to proactively put online. When you’re signing up for new online accounts, consider whether you need to enter your personal details or whether it would be better to use a burner account to mask your identity.

Where possible avoid using Big Tech for all your online activities. Pick a web browser and search engine that don’t collect your data; use end-to-end-encrypted apps and disappearing messages when appropriate; and understand what data WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, Amazon, Spotify and others collect about you.

Finally, it’s not just on you. If you’re keen to be invisible online then you should also consider discussing your position with friends and family. Most people are likely to be considerate to requests not to post your photo or location on social media. After all, the head of Google’s smart speakers has said people should disclose whether they have the devices when guests visit their homes.

--Matt Burgess,
Many unhappy returns?

Returning unwanted gifts this holiday season is becoming so expensive for retailers that they just might let customers keep the products--and issue refunds anyway.

Why it matters: The cost of online returns is soaring, contributing to increased prices, product shortages and supply chain stress.

The big picture: Returning a $50 item is expected to cost an average of $33, up 59% from 2020, according to Optoro, a returns processor.

Worker shortages and supply chain problems are taking a toll, Optoro CEO Tobin Moore tells Axios.

About three in 10 online purchases are returned, according to CBRE Supply Chain.

The impact: Retailers are expected to pass on the cost of returns in the form of higher prices.

“The consumer pays the price of a free return,” Columbia Business School retail studies professor Mark Cohen said.

Some retailers, namely Amazon, sometimes tell returners to keep it. It would cost them too much to process a return, Moore says.

But, but, but: Don’t try to game the system to get free stuff. “There's tracking involved that will determine whether or not consumers are taking advantage of the system,” adds Moore.

State of play: The challenge for online retailers is to process returns quickly and get the goods back onto their virtual shelves, minimizing depreciation.

“The faster you can get a good back to stock, the more you can avoid markdowns,” Moore says.

Yet online items that are returned are often discarded, donated or repurposed for sale through an alternative route.

Don’t shed any holiday tears for retailers, though. They just recorded a sales increase of 8.5% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, compared to 2020, according to Mastercard SpendingPulseTM. That included an 11% increase in online sales.

What's next: A rising number of shoppers are returning goods bought online to physical stores, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Retailers are encouraging it--so they can "make returned products quickly available for resale to offset supply-chain snarls and adjust to rising e-commerce sales."

--Mike Allen/Axios PM


Why I’m easing up on my news consumption

Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic.

The idea struck me at a holiday dinner with close friends in Charleston, S.C., where I was the only journalist at the table. Our cheerful conversation darkened like a sudden squall in the harbor when it turned to the news. One woman, an intelligent, well-read friend for whom I have great respect and affection, posed a serious question to me: “Is there anywhere you can go for just good news?” I almost choked on my oyster. “No,” I replied, after a brief pause. “The news is what happens. Not what you wish had happened. It’s not news if the mayor was almost in a life-threatening car crash. It’s big news if he was.”

There are exceptions. “Man Lands on Moon” was both good and big news. Your hometown winning the World Series is good news. But big news is urgent, and bad news is almost always more urgent than good news. Also, my experience is that people may think they want good news, but there’s no evidence that they will pay for it. 

Only days later, the story of Davyon Johnson popped up. The Oklahoma 6th-grader managed to save two lives in one day. First, he used the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate who was choking on a bottle cap, the Associated Press reported. Later that same day, according to the Muskogee Phoenix, he helped a woman escape from a burning house. Then CNN aired footage of two baby bald eagles hatching. Suddenly, I was awash in good news.

It didn’t last. Part of the problem with “news” is that there isn’t really enough of it, good or bad, to fill the 24/7 maw opened up by cable news, talk radio and social media. I was there in Atlanta in June 1980 when Ted Turner threw the switch to launch CNN, which he informally called “the news channel,” as in “How could anybody not watch the news channel?” I had written a page-one profile of his venture for The Wall Street Journal which began with the question “Is America ready for Ted Turner?” It was the wrong question. It should’ve been: “How can they possibly fill 24 hours with news?”

CNN programmers talked then of all the stuff they planned to cover: exercise, pet care, home repairs, farm news and the like. But they soon discovered “Crossfire,” which featured two angry White males spitting at each other over politics. The rest is history. The Reagan administration’s FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine; by 1996, we had Fox News on cable TV and Rush Limbaugh on the radio. Today, we have the fearmongering likes of Dan Bongino succeeding Limbaugh on the radio and upping the game as a social media mega-troll.

The disinformation game is wide open to anyone: Russia, China or a former president who can’t admit he lost an election. In this toxic media stew, I can fine-tune whatever flavor of “news” turns me on, and I can even delude myself into believing that by staying absolutely current on my Twitter feed, I can somehow contribute to saving democracy.

But who am I kidding? Whether I know within minutes every detail of the cloakroom maneuvers aimed at reviving Build Back Better is not going to affect its fate. I don’t need to hear everything Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said today. Also, spare me the gibberish uttered by former president Donald Trump on his tin-can-and-string-memo-to-journalist-to-Twitter telegraph. If the news is big enough, it will find me. I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet.

What to take off the plate? I subscribe to way too many “insider” newsletters, whose pundits fill me with dread and anxiety each day. Maybe I will allow myself two? Or three? I follow far too many people on Twitter, which results in a tornado of nightly angst. I plan to cut my “following” list ruthlessly. And I already have forgone most cable news.

As another year of certain mayhem begins, I hope my attempt at moderation renders the desired calming effect. I would dread having to take the next step--cold turkey--as I did to kick cigarettes years ago. Two addictions with one big difference. Smoking kills you. News, in the proper dose, is healthy. And for me, a life with no news might not be worth living.

--John Huey, a former Time, Inc. editor-in-chief

 Women can be evil, too 

Two villainesses have captured the nation’s attention from the courtroom this week. Or is that two victims?

Elizabeth Holmes and Ghislaine Maxwell stand accused of very different crimes. The now-disgraced Silicon Valley golden girl allegedly duped investors into thinking her company’s blood-testing technology could detect disease with a pinprick. The New York socialite-in-exile, meanwhile, allegedly trafficked teenage girls as young as 14 for financier Jeffrey Epstein and his rich friends to rape.

Yet these women have seized on similar strategies for their defense: Blame the men.

Start with the wannabe magician who lied her way to a $9 billion valuation. Holmes fooled doctors and funders and pharmacies and everyday folks. Now, however, she’s claiming she was the mark.

Her board of directors--mostly a bunch of distinguished, aging gentlemen including Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis and George P. Shultz--didn’t give her good enough advice, she says. Those scientists and engineers who she claimed were changing the world? They didn’t trust her too much; she trusted them too much. They told her that her miracle machine worked. She, innocent and ignorant, merely relayed that information to the public.

And then there’s Theranos chief operating officer Ramesh Balwani, her partner in (maybe) crime and, at one point, in love. Better known as Sunny, the right-hand man was, in his former girlfriend’s retelling, actually a puppet master. The subject is touchy, and serious: Holmes charges Balwani with emotional and sexual abuse. She says he told her he was “astonished” at her “mediocrity,” that she had to “kill the old Elizabeth” to become stronger. He forced her to sleep with him, she says, “because he wanted me to know he still loved me.”

The reported conduct (which Balwani denies) is appalling. But can abuse excuse abuse? Or does exploiting trauma as an excuse for hurting others only cause more harm?

The case is simpler when it comes to those movers and shakers Holmes got to put their stamps on her sham. Holmes played on her femininity to impressive effect, even as she modulated her voice to a baritone and her wardrobe to a black-turtlenecked Steve Jobs sendup. She caught the notice of powerful men because she emphasized, in adopting these traits so incongruous with her appearance, that she wasn’t one of them--and that, all the same, she was playing their game.

When she succeeded, she was notable because she wasn’t a man. Now, in her ignominy, she suggests she wasn’t responsible for any of it--because she wasn’t a man. She can only have it both ways if society is still sexist enough to think this counts as feminism.

And if society is even more sexist than that, a jury will also acquit Ghislaine Maxwell.

Maxwell, by all accounts, ran Epstein’s monstrous life. She managed his many homes, his glitzy relationships and his uncontrollable yen for so-called massages. The last, as it turned out, meant luring minors to Epstein’s estates, where he could undress them, touch them and worse. Beforehand, she might befriend a girl as a means of grooming her for violation--gossiping with her, shopping with her, talking with her about sex. She’d sometimes watch as the rape took place, to put the child “at ease” with her presence, according to an indictment.

But, of course, none of it was her fault! “Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple,” Maxwell’s attorney proclaimed, “women have been blamed for the bad behavior of men.” So her team will try to blame a man for the bad behavior of a woman --when really there is more than enough badness to go around for each of the accused, dead and alive, to take their share.

Maxwell, in seeking to capitalize on the stereotype of the weak woman bending and breaking in the hands of a savvy man, takes a page out of Holmes’s book--and rewrites it even worse. Because where Holmes may have hoodwinked mighty men who underestimated a gal’s ability to bamboozle their big old brains, Maxwell was deceiving the most vulnerable members of her own sex. Now, the real victims risk going without justice, because a fake victim has invented herself.

False feminism always hurts the cause of gender equality. The suggestion that a woman guilty of wrongdoing can only ever have been under the control of a man deprives all women of agency. After all, to become less culpable, they must also become less capable. This is an appeal to prejudice masquerading as progressivism.

The least sexist thing we can do is embrace the uninspiring reality: Women can be evil, too.

--Molly Roberts, Washington Post

Isolated voltage! Perils of charging electric cars

Would you willingly spend 30 minutes in a deserted parking lot at 11:30 p.m.? Advise your child or loved one to do it? 

Probably not, but electric vehicle owners frequently face that prospect when they need to charge a vehicle away from home. 

It’s not uncommon for smartphone apps to send drivers to "public" EV chargers in the back lot of a closed car dealership, an empty corner of a big-box store parking lot, or otherwise tucked out of sight.  

“These are less than natural places for people to want to stop on a long drive,” said Gabe Shenhar, Consumer Reports associate director of automotive testing.

 Early in the current wave of EV adoption, one charger was in such a daunting spot that some women involved in the project called it "the rape charger" because the location felt so unsafe. The charger was eventually moved, but that spotlights problems that continue today: 

EV chargers are frequently in neglected, backlot spaces to save money connecting them to the main utility lines. 

As with many projects, women don’t have enough input on where the chargers should go. 

“Visibility and safety are the table stakes,” EV advocate Chelsea Sexton said. “Nobody’s going to use a charger that doesn’t feel safe. Lighting, amenities, restrooms, things to do while you wait are important.” 

Important, but rare. 

There are several reasons for that. Most EV owners do the majority of charging overnight at home. That means many public chargers don’t get a lot of use. It’s hard to make them profitable if they’re used only a few hours a day, but it's also hard to convince drivers to buy more EVs if they can’t find convenient, safe public charging when they need it, especially on long highway drives. 

Planning a long drive on interstate highways recently, I found multiple instances where the only DC fast chargers available were in the lots of dealers that would certainly be deserted, and possibly closed, when I reached them at night. 

“Grid-tied chargers are generally placed as close as possible to available power to reduce the cost of extending circuits” with trenches and wiring, said Desmond Wheatley, CEO of Beam Global, which makes solar power chargers that can be put anywhere. “Hence, many chargers are found at the back of the supermarket where the dumpsters are and where the power comes into the building. 

"Early adopters of EVs will put up with this but mass consumers will not.” 

Tesla got it right. How others can catch up

Superchargers, the network of proprietary DC fast chargers Tesla built for its customers, “tend to be in busy, well-lit areas,” Shenhar said. Other chargers, most operated by companies that get income solely from the electricity they sell, “tend to be in strip malls that are OK in the day, less so at night,” he said. “They’re not well lit, empty, have few services available. Women expressed concerns about safety.” 

This issue will only grow as more EVs hit the road. 

“While the majority of charging will occur at homes and places of business, there must also be reliable options for public charging,” Nicole Antakli, Charge Enterprises chief business officer,  said. “Every consumer must feel comfortable when charging their vehicle; this should include the ease of the charging hardware mechanics connecting to the vehicle, payment accessibility, exceptional visibility, effective lighting and surveillance of the chargers.” 

Volta Charging places advertising-supported chargers in highly visible places in front of destinations for shopping, entertainment and dining. Its thousands of chargers across the U.S. are recognizable because they’re smack in front of popular businesses and have video screens and speakers selling high-end services and goods. 

“It’s a triple win,” said Quin Garcia, managing director of Autotech Ventures, an investor in Volta. “It’s free to the customer, the advertisers get exposure, and the business gets an amenity smack in front of their door.” Volta can afford to run high-voltage lines to its street-side chargers because it gets advertising revenue, unlike services whose only income comes from selling electricity.  

Charging companies and automakers both have a role to play in ensuring charging is easy and secure. 

General Motors has an opportunity to make a major impact with the 40,000 public chargers it's promised to install across the U.S., and thousands more at its dealers. GM's recently announced $750 million program to expand public, work and home charging will succeed only if the stations are easy to find and people are comfortable using them, day or night.

--The Week

Journalists can’t save democracy

Ever since Donald Trump's shocking victory in the 2016 presidential race, a debate has been raging among mainstream journalists over the media's role in paving the way for the demagogue's win. With Trump sounding very much like he intends to make another run for the White House in 2024 and polls indicating he will easily win his party's nomination if he does, this argument has surged to life once again.

For Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, media critic Jay Rosen, and others, the stakes are obvious and enormous. Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy. Given that reality, aspiring to neutrality between the parties ends up contributing to the realization of the worst-case scenario.

According to Milbank, that's already happening, with coverage of Democrat Joe Biden rivaling the negativity that characterized stories about Trump's time in the White House. It would be much better for members of the media to do their jobs with a proper sense of proportion, consistently describing the danger Trump and his party represents, placing them in a category distinct from whatever faults the Biden administration displays, and actively becoming "partisans for democracy."

On the other side of argument, Ross Douthat of the New York Times argues that this view of news coverage will only increase the appeal of right-wing populism. Because "suspicion of the establishment is precisely what's generating support for populism in the first place," rallying the establishment behind one of the two parties won't succeed in suppressing the populist insurgency. "Instead, you need to tell the truth about populism's dangers while convincing skeptical readers that you can be trusted to describe reality in full."

If forced to choose between those two positions, I incline toward Douthat's side of the debate. I fear that if mainstream media outlets become more openly partisan, they will lose even more trust and authority and end up being taken seriously only by those who already agree with them about the threat of the populist right.  

Yet I fear that even Douthat is being more than a little naïve about our fractured and polarized epistemic reality. What counts as a scandal worthy of coverage? Which ones are huge and which are trivial? How much time and attention should be devoted to which kinds of political corruption? Douthat's column presumes that the answers to these questions are fairly obvious, that journalists should cover them accordingly, and that if they don't, conservative viewers will see this as further evidence of media bias and untrustworthiness.

That might have been true in 1998. But in 2021, it's beside the point. The right's media ecosystem actively encourages its audience to view any and all mainstream coverage that makes Republicans look bad as evidence of bias and bad faith. This same ecosystem treats any and all mainstream coverage of Democrats that doesn't savage them as infected by hypocrisy and double standards. These judgments are made prior to any open-minded assessment of the facts in particular cases.

In that kind of tribal and trustless environment, it may already be too late for mainstream journalists to demonstrate their fairness--let alone save American democracy. 

                                                                                                            --Damon Linker

Is Omicron panic the beginning of the way we live now?

Perhaps this is what endemic COVID looks like: Occasional weeks or months of relative normalcy punctuated by sudden bursts of fear and panic, continuing on and on into the foreseeable future. 

I don't want to be a doomsayer, but a little bit of pessimism feels warranted after the emergence of Omicron as a COVID "variant of concern" over the [post-Thanksgiving] weekend. The development shut down a chunk of international travel, sent markets tumbling, and generally threatened a widespread-but-fragile sense that maybe this time the worst of the pandemic was over, or almost so, for many of us. It was difficult to know whether to be terrified because of Omicron's many mutations that could render the virus impervious to our defenses, or hopeful that existing vaccines might prove effective against the new threat. 

As always, separating good information from the bad proved to be a Herculean task--the flurry of online speculation quickly outraced the few facts we do have. There's so much that isn't known yet.

The thing we do know? Omicron is coming to the United States, if it hasn't already arrived.

"Inevitably, it will be here," infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Nov. 28 on ABC's “This Week.” "The question is will we be prepared for it? If and when--and it's going to be when--it comes here, hopefully we will be ready for it."

Hopefully that's true, and Omicron won't turn out to be a Delta-style disaster. But even if the United States and the world somehow duck this particular bullet, the new variant makes a few things clear:

The federal government must, must, must become more nimble 

The announcement of Omicron's arrival came just a week after the Centers for Disease Control finally approved vaccine booster shots for all adults. Plenty of observers believe it should have happened sooner.  "I think the confusing message around the boosters may end up being one of the biggest missed opportunities in this pandemic," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, said earlier [in November].  Indeed, Democratic governors like Jared Polis in Colorado and Laura Kelly in Kansas stopped waiting and approved boosters in their states even before the CDC action.

Vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech now say they could ship variant-specific vaccines within 100 days, if necessary. It might be necessary--but it's difficult to have faith that the CDC and FDA will move with all due speed. The pandemic is nearly two years old, but Americans still don't have access to the kind of quick-and-easy COVID tests available to Europeans, largely because of U.S. agencies' laborious approval process. That obviously needs to change.

Anti-vax Republicans should shut up and get out of the way. 

Theoretically, lean-government conservatives ought to be great at streamlining cumbersome and outdated bureaucracies in order to keep Americans safe. That's not happening. Instead, Republican governors like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas have tried to block vaccine and mask mandates, while Fox News stars (and some Trumpist members of Congress) have spread conspiracy theories. That's why it was particularly galling last week when The Wall Street Journal--owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News--blamed President Biden for the rising COVID death toll. 

Delete joke about man who killed father and mother asking for mercy on grounds he is an orphan. Insert joke about newspaper editorial that blames Joe Biden for not doing a better job countering the anti-vaccine propaganda spread by the newspaper's owners.--David Frum

It has always been the case that unvaccinated people risk not only their own health but also the well-being of their neighbors--in part because they serve as potential breeding grounds for COVID variants. It's probably not a coincidence that Omicron was first detected in South Africa, where barely more than a third of the population has received the jab. Every Tucker Carlson rant that encourages vaccine hesitancy makes the next deadly variant a bit more likely. 

Worldwide vaccination efforts must be redoubled. 

 My colleague Ryan Cooper has been an insistent voice urging rich nations like the U.S. to ensure COVID vaccines reach poorer nations. "Obviously it's immoral to let people die by the millions because they live in places too impoverished or dysfunctional to obtain or distribute vaccines," he wrote in September. "But it's also bad for everyone because allowing the virus to circulate in the Global South risks new variants cropping up that could get around the vaccines and harm rich countries." It should now be clear that he is right. 

President Biden said [on Nov. 26] that "the United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined." Clearly, that's not enough. Biden has also called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and other supplies so that poorer nations can scale up their efforts, but wealthy countries like the United Kingdom and European Union nations are opposed. Omicron should force a rethinking of those priorities.

Even if all those things happen, though, Omicron is yet another reminder that the new normal might not look like the old one. We're all eager to move on. "When can the COVID masks finally come off?" the New York Times asked earlier this month. Right now--and perhaps for a very long time to come--the answer is: "Not quite yet."                                                                                                                                                                              --Joel Mathis, The Week



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.